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In Star Trek Discovery S01:E08 - Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum - we see Admiral Cornwell have a discussion with L'Rell about defecting.

We know that the Federation has a death penalty.

My question is: Why does the Admiral tell L'Rell that the Federation has no death penalty?

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    I wanted to comment that it's because the Powers-that-Be behind St:D don't really care about continuity other than being able to throw in a familiar character every now and then to appease the old fans, but that seems to be more of a rant than comment, so let me try this: General Order 7 is a very specific rule about a very specific situation and in fact the only form of capital punishment the Federation does have. So Cornwell's answer is true (from a certain POV ;-D), it doesn't have the death penalty as part of its legal system. – BMWurm Nov 22 '17 at 10:25
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In general, the Federation has no death penalty

As BMWurm mentioned before me in his comment, the only known case of the death penalty is the General Order 7 mentioned in the question.

In general, the Admiral was right in her statement. It was one, exceptional situation, and the point was, that comparing to the Klingons and their value of (especially alien) life, the Federation has completely abandoned the death penalty.

EDIT:

It should be noted that the contents justification of General Order 7 was classified as "TOP SECRET For eyes of STARFLEET Command only", which would mean "do not disclose to anyone not in Starfleet Command, especially the Klingons, even if they appear to be defectors".

A statement from Admiral Cornwell that the Federation does not have the death penalty, except for one situation that concerns one planet, without liberty to discuss why, would have created doubts and confusion, and would not present the contrast between the Federation and the Klingons.

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    funny the 'half-vulcan' prefix for Spock in that document – NKCampbell Nov 22 '17 at 19:45
  • +1 It seems to me that Admiral Cornwell was well aware of the death penalty for going to Talos IV, but was lying in order to gain the trust of L'Rell. – Thunderforge Jan 15 '18 at 2:07
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According to Memory Alpha, Captain Pike's encounter on Talos IV was in 2254.

Discovery is set in 2256.

The Menagerie takes place significantly later, in 2267.

Given how controversial a death sentence would be, it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that it took more than two years to finally decide upon it, and in the meantime the proposal would be on a "need to know" basis. So it is possible that General Order 7 did not yet exist at the time Admiral Cornwell was speaking, though he might or might not have been aware of the proposal.


Alternatively, Admiral Cornwell could be drawing a distinction between Federation Law and Starfleet Law. I believe there is real-world precedent for military law to still include the death penalty even in nations that do not otherwise make use of it. Presumably, as a potential defector, L'Rell would not be part of Starfleet and not subject to military law.

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