The death penalty has existed as long as humans have existed. The quote "an eye for an eye" is found in the Bible. In the Middle Ages fines, public humiliation and imprisonment were appropriate punishments for all crimes, and death penalty for all murders.
Today, Federal law (the FBI, CIA, ect) states that the death penalty is to be enforced with convicted criminals for: treason; deserting armed forces during wartime; murder committed by a soldier; kidnapping and murder that involves crossing state lines; murder committed during an airplane hijacking; and of course, homicide. The death penalty is also called for punishment of for: attempting to kill anyone investigating or prosecuting his or her activities; advising, directing, authorizing or assisting in the murder of someone ["Death Penalty Information center", 1997]. Also, The Anti-Drug abuse act of 1998 calls for the death penalty for all drug related killings. Along with that, the bill amending sec. 848 to controlled substances act calls for the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain drug offences possession of 10 or more kg of heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine or analogue. In addition, The Drug Kingpin act sates the use of death penalty for convicted major drug dealers caught with huge quantities of drugs, over 66Ibs of heroin and 330Ibs of cocaine.
Even thought there are these federal laws requiring the use of the death penalty for the crimes, State laws only consider one crime, murder, to be a capital offense. IN the United States alone there have been 4047 executions since 1930 and 188 were from 1977-1996. In 1996, there were a total of 15,168,100 arrests; 33,050 for forcible rape; 1,506,200 involving drug violations and 19,020 for murder and non-negligent manslaughter [Don Death Penalty San Diego: "Lucent Books Inc."].
The death penalty is an expensive punishment, since 1976 the united states have spent 700 million dollars in it.