21 December 2016

U.S. Death Penalty Rarely Used And Geographically Isolated

U.S. executions are at a twenty-five year low of 20 for the year, and death sentences are at a post-1976 reinstatement low in the United States of 30. Less than 1% of U.S. counties imposed a death sentence in 2016 and two Southern states account for 80% of U.S. executions in 2016.

A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center shows the decline: In 2016, the number of executions fell to 20, a 25-year low and down from a peak of 98 in 1999. And 30 people were sentenced to death — another record low since the Supreme Court reinstated the use of the death penalty in the 1970s.

“For the first time in more than 40 years,” the report found, “no state imposed 10 or more death sentences.” 
What’s more, the death penalty is increasingly becoming geographically isolated: Just 27 counties (of more than 3,140) sentenced people to death this year, down from 60 in 2012. And Texas and Georgia alone carried out 80 percent of all executions this year.
From Vox.


The death penalty has never been terribly widely used in the U.S. Many states have abolished it entirely, the federal government has never used it widely, and the judicial process in these cases is slow and costly. Judges on appellate courts in California and some other Northern states have deliberately kept the cases moving slowly and have been skeptical of death penalty convictions.

Murder rates are down dramatically from the 1990s. Murder rates were at record lows in 2014, and many capital murder cases arising from 2015 and 2016 murders that have seen some increases in murder rates have not made their way through the court system yet. Some of the leading explanations for the decline include higher incarceration rates, the abatement of lead exposure to children decades ago, the legalization of abortion under Roe v. Wade, and the tapering off of hard line drug war law enforcement tactics.

The U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts interpreting its ruling has ruled that the death penalty procedures used in a number of U.S. states is unconstitutional, leaving many states that aren't necessarily anti-death penalty, without a death penalty law on the books.

In particular, the execution of juveniles, the execution of people for the rape of an adult, the execution of people with an IQ of less than 85, and the imposition of death penalties without a unanimous verdict of jurors who are properly instructed has invalidated many death sentences and many death penalties that have been imposed. 

The Supreme Court has also taken up cases where racial discrimination in jury selection or prosecution failures to disclose exonerating evidence (i.e. Brady violations) taint convictions, and some justices have expressed doubt about use of the death penalty at all.

Nebraska legislatively repealed its death penalty.

And, states have found it difficult to obtain lethal injection drugs.

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