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Does Wisconsin use the death penalty?

At the federal level, the death penalty is a legal punishment for certain violent crimes and some federal crimes. Each state can decide if it will impose this penalty. While many states do have and use the death penalty, the Death Penalty Information Center explains that Wisconsin does not. 

Wisconsin has not had the death penalty since 1853. It was the first state to stop using it on a permanent basis. In 1852, Rhode Island briefly ended the death penalty but then began reusing it later. Michigan stopped using it in 1847 for most crimes except treason. Wisconsin was the first to declare it invalid regardless of the crime, though. 

The last case 

The last time the state used the death penalty was in 1850. A jury found John McCaffary guilty of murdering his wife. The execution was brutal. It was a hanging and the community witnessed it. McCaffary struggled after the hanging and took about five minutes to die. 

Ending the death penalty 

The gruesome nature of this execution led lawmakers to rethink the use of the death penalty. They were quick to abolish the practice. You should note that McCaffary is the first, last and only person to be put to death by the state of Wisconsin. It was that disturbing that the state never used it again as a punishment. 


Since the abolishment of the death penalty, there have been movements to reinstate it. Most notably, there was a push during the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer received multiple life sentences, but many felt he should be put to death for his crimes. However, after his death, the movement faded away. 

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