The death penalty, as a subset within that vast category of “acts of violence homo sapiens do to their fellows,” blends insensibly into a dozen adjacent territories — murder, assassination, warfare, torture, low crime and high statecraft, even suicide.
If we know for certain that extinguishing life is an essential component of the death penalty, our everyday language nevertheless reflects ambiguity about how. We might speak of crime victims as being “killed execution-style” to evoke a sense of deliberation and even ceremony about the act; conversely, we might derogate the formal and official act of a state organ as a “summary execution” to underscore the absence of an appropriate juridical atmosphere. In situations of war and revolution where the legitimate authority of the state is contested, the water muddies still further.
[T]he term warrant refers to a specific type of authorization; a writ issued by a competent officer, usually a judge or magistrate, which permits an otherwise illegal act that would violate individual rights and affords the person executing the writ protection from damages if the act is performed.