01 May 2006

Capital Punishment Statistics

U.S. News and World Report, commenting on the declining trend in the number of death penalties carried out in the U.S. notes a few thinks worth pondering. First the big picture:

Ninety-four percent of the 2,148 executions carried out last year in 22 countries were staged in just four nations: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States . . . the vast majority in China.

Next the national picture:

82 percent of executions in the past 25 years occurred in just 10 states--with Texas and Virginia accounting for half.

Concerns about racial bias in death penalty sentencing (I looked at the statistics from Georgia myself in college statistics, and it was clear that the race of the perpetrator and victim was a major factor in sentences, with blacks killing whites most likely to receive the death penalty), concerns about wrongful convictions and bad lawyering for death penalty defendants (highlighted by DNA evidence based exonerations and cases of gross defense attorney malpractice), and concerns about the cost of maintaining the legal apparatus of the death penalty, conspire to give much of the nation pause when considering whether to continue to use the death penalty.

I don't agree that the death penalty is absolutely morally wrong. It can be justified. But, it seems equally clear that the criminal justice systems that produce the vast majority of death penalty sentences are deeply flawed, and the reforms necessary to create a functional system in those places may not be worth the trouble.

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