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Wisconsin Capital Punishment Laws

Capital punishment, or “the death penalty,” has been outlawed in Wisconsin since 1853, and Wisconsin is the only state to have executed just one person. While a 2006 poll showed 55% of Badger State voters supported reinstating capital punishment, the state legislature passed on the issue, keeping life imprisonment as the punishment for the most severe crimes.

History of Capital Punishment in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s lone execution in the state’s history came in 1851. John McCaffary was accused and tried in the drowning death of his wife Bridgett in a backyard cistern. Three months after the guilty verdict, McCaffary was hanged from a tree in front of the Kenosha County courthouse and jail. In front of 2,000 to 3,000 spectators, McCaffary struggled at the end of the rope for close to 20 minutes after the noose failed to break his neck. Onlookers were so disturbed by the spectacle that a movement to abolish the death penalty began, and two years later Wisconsin banned capital punishment in favor of life imprisonment.

See History of Death Penalty Laws for a more general summary.

Code Section

939.50(3)(a); 940.01

Is Capital Punishment Allowed?


Effect of Defendant's Incapacity


Minimum Age


Available for Crimes Other than Homicide?


Definition of Capital Homicide


Method of Execution


Capital Punishment in America

As the 2006 poll above shows, capital punishment remains a hot-button issue in American politics even in states without the death penalty. While most national polls show an even split between those favoring the death penalty and those who prefer life imprisonment, recent years have seen a steady decline in the use of execution coinciding with a drop in public support of the death penalty.

In 2014, 29 people were put to death in the United States (mostly in Florida, Missouri, and Texas), down from a post-1976 peak of 98 in 1999 and part of a decline from 52 in 2009. Four states, Connecticut, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, have only executed volunteers (death row prisoners who waive their appeals) since capital punishment was reinstituted in 1976, while Kansas and New Hampshire have performed no executions in that time.

Wisconsin Capital Punishment Laws: Related Resources

Public opinion regarding executions is constantly changing, and state laws regarding the death penalty may shift as well. If you would like more introductory articles and resources on this topic, you can visit FindLaw’s Capital Punishment and the Death Penalty section to learn more. If you would like legal assistance with a death penalty case, you can schedule a consultation with an experienced Wisconsin criminal law attorney in your area.

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