Capital punishment--the ultimate penalty--is one of the most controversial aspects of America's criminal justice system. Its inclusion in the U.S. constitution sparks heated debate with opponents claiming that it is incompatible with the principles on which the world's greatest democracy stands. Although the death penalty has been around for thousands of years, modern America has changed it in fundamental ways. These days no criminal is put to death lightly. The imposition of the death penalty is subject to an elaborate array of legal restrictions; the convicted are entitled to an extensive--often drawn out--series of appeals.