December 18, 2012
DPIC reports slight uptick in number of death sentences imposed in 2012The Death Penalty Information Center released its year-end report on death penalty developments today, and the full eight-page report is available at this link. This press release from DPIC about the report echoes its theme of the death penalty in decline by making these points at the outset:
Only nine states carried out executions this year, equaling the fewest number of states to do so in 20 years, according to a new report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). More than half of the states (29) either have no death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years. The number of executions in 2012 (43) was 56 percent less than the peak in 1999 and equal to last year’s total.
The number of new death sentences in 2012 was the second lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Seventy-eight people were sentenced to death in 2012, representing a 75 percent decline since 1996 when there were 315 sentences.
Many death penalty states with histories of high use had no new death sentences or no executions in 2012. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia (which is second to Texas in total executions since 1976) had no death sentences and no executions. No executions were carried out in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, or Missouri.
“Capital punishment is becoming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report. “In 2012, fewer states have the death penalty, fewer carried out executions, and death sentences and executions were clustered in a small number of states. It is very likely that more states will take up the question of death penalty repeal in the years ahead.”
Especially as compared to death penalty's modern heyday in the United States (which roughly corresponds to the half-decade following the oklahoma City bombing and President Bill Clinton's second term in office), this basic narrative of the capital punishment in decline is accurate. But as my post headline and the graphic above notes, the very latest developments suggest a flattening out of the declining trend.
Despite the controversy over the Troy Davis execution and the initiative repeal effort in California this year, there was still apparently a slight uptick in the total number of death sentences imposed throughout the United States. And, as the data from DPIC here reveal, the 43 executions in 2012 is right around the average number of yearly executions throughout the United States over the past half-decade. Thus, assuming recent capital past is prologue, we can and should reasonably predict on average six or seven death sentences and three or four executions every month in the United States for the foreseeable future.
On a related front, I wonder if anyone has any good data on the number of LWOP sentences imposed in 2012 or before. I have long worried that a small reduction in death sentences imposed within a jurisdiction might sometimes result in disproportionately large increase in the number of LWOP sentences in that jurisdiction. I do not have rigorous data to back up my concerns here, and I would be grateful for any information anyone may have about relationships between death sentencing trends and imprisonment trends in 2012 or before.
December 18, 2012 at 06:20 PM | Permalink
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“In 2012, fewer states have the death penalty, fewer carried out executions, and death sentences and executions were clustered in a small number of states. It is very likely that more states will take up the question of death penalty repeal in the years ahead.”
DPIC could have gone further and stated with considerable accuracy that not only are death sentences and executions clustered in a small number of states, but that these are clustered increasingly in a smaller and smaller number of jurisdictions within states.
Your general spin Professor is not unexpected, but flies in the face of obvious trends. The flattening out of headline numbers creates a smokescreen for the underlying changes, if one does not acknowledge them. That appears to be your intent.
I do share your concern for possible disproportionate use of LWOP, and would also be keen to see the data. However, as you know, we disagree that awful as LWOP is, the abolition of the death penalty should be blamed or reversed as the lesser of two evils. Changes in sentencing policy, some of which have been outlined by your guest blogger, can and should address any such issues.
Posted by: peter | Dec 19, 2012 10:32:17 AM