Minnesota Capital Punishment Laws

Minnesota was one of the first states to ban capital punishment in 1911, and early attempts at restoring the death penalty in the state (1913 and 1923) failed in the state legislature. Therefore, in the absence of executions, the state's toughest penalty is life imprisonment without the possibility of release, which is reserved for crimes considered "heinous" (including certain sexual assault crimes).

As of 2014, most U.S. states have either abolished capital punishment, have a moratorium on executions in place, or have not carried out executions for a number of years. See FindLaw's Death Penalty section for more articles and resources.

Code Section 609.10; 609.185; 1911 Minn. Laws Ch. 387
Is Capital Punishment Allowed? No
Effect of Defendant's Incapacity -
Minimum Age -
Available for Crimes Other than Homicide? -
Definition of Capital Homicide -
Method of Execution -

Note: State laws are constantly changing. While FindLaw makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of its state law summaries, you may also want to contact a Minnesota criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

A Brief History of the Minnesota Capital Punishment Laws

The botched hanging of a convicted killer in 1906 ultimately led to the abolition of capital punishment in Minnesota. William Williams, who would become the last prisoner executed in the state, was convicted of murdering a teenaged boy and his mother. He pleaded not guilty by reason of "emotional insanity," but was unable to convince the court. The Minnesota Supreme Court eventually weighed in after several appeals, affirming the death sentence.

Williams was sentenced to death by hanging, but the rope used for the execution was too long and he hit the floor after falling through the gallows trap door. Three police officers then held the rope for 14 minutes until he finally died of strangulation. Opponents of capital punishment seized on this as an example of the cruelty of the practice, using the high-profile case in its effort to abolish the death penalty.

Minnesota legislators overwhelmingly approved a bill to end the death penalty in 1911, followed by a much tighter Senate vote. It was signed into law by then-Governor Adolph O. Eberhart.

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