Ori Pomerantz wrote:
Oral Torah seems to limit capital punishment to the point where it would almost never happen. IIRC, capital punishment requires two witnesses with foreknowledge of the crime who warned the would be murderer and to whom that would be murderer replied he or she will do it anyway.
Does this mean that the capital punishment written in the Torah is written more to emphasize the evil of murder than as practical Halacha? Are Noahide courts empowered to execute murderers more than Jewish courts?
Yes, under Noahide law, non-Jewish courts do have more latitude than the Sanhedrin had.
It is true that in normal times, the Sanhedrin rarely carried out a death sentence. Your surmise is probably correct, that the death penalty is on the books — i.e., in the Torah — more to emphasize the gravity of certain crimes than to actually put murderers to death.
However, the King (and if I’m not mistaken, also the Sanhedrin) had broad discretion to impose the death penalty under a wide variety of circumstances — extra-judicially. One such circumstance mentioned in the classical sources is a period of widespread lawlessness — what we would call a high crime rate. The Talmud tries to balance a general reluctance to impose the death penalty with an assumption that the death penalty does deter crime — and therefore must be imposed often enough to achieve that effect.