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August 10, 2017

A reminder of why an active death penalty system in the US now seems so unlikley

Arguably the US has never had an active death penalty system, though there were a few hundred executions each year during the first decades of the 20th Century.  In the so-called modern death penalty era since 1976, the most completed executions in a single year was 98 (in 1999); there have been fewer than 50 executions in nearly every year over the last decades, and only 20 completed executions in 2016.  (This page from the Death Penalty information Center provides these recent details.)

As I have mentioned before, I find it notable that all the new law-and-order talk coming from the Trump Administration has not really included talk of ramping up use of the death penalty.  That, in my view, is a mark of a achievement by the abolitionist movement.  Another mark is the extraordinary difficulty these seems to be in securing death sentences, as discussed in this new Injustice Today piece headlined "Even in the deep red South, death sentences are on the decline." Here is an excerpt:

Twenty years ago, a brutal murder in a red state like Mississippi would likely guarantee a death sentence for a defendant.  But as last week’s sentencing of Scotty Lakeith Street illustrates, juries in the South and across the country continue to shift away from capital punishment.  In 1997, four people in Mississippi were sentenced to death; last year, 2016, not one person was. Street was sentenced to life without parole for stabbing retired teacher Frankie Fairley to death in 2014. The jury in Street’s trial, faced with a choice between the death penalty or life in prison, couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict, and split 10–2....

Those that opted for life without parole may have been swayed by Street’s extensive history of mental illness. As reported by WLOX, jurors heard testimony from his sister that Street had “been institutionalized so much, it’s beyond my count.” Street’s lawyers also presented testimony from a mental health provider who explained that Street suffered from schizophrenia and “needed to be in a group home with a caregiver.”  Street was also reported to have displayed “bizarre behavior,” including “putting plastic bags on his head to keep his brain from leaking out and running naked in public with objects tied to his scrotum.”...

Mental illness aside, death sentences are on the decline across the country.  Last year, 30 people were sentenced to death in the U.S., while in the mid-1990s, more than 300 people received capital sentences.  That decline in popularity is reflected in Street’s case, as well as in other Mississippi capital cases.  Though the death penalty’s legality remains alive and well, juries across the country are rejecting it.

August 10, 2017 at 04:29 PM | Permalink


Okay. So, the US "actually administers" [RBG post] the death penalty but does not really have an "active" death penalty system.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 10, 2017 5:13:53 PM

All the Brady violations, prosecutorial misconduct, and DNA exonerations impacting jurors and leading them to distrust prosecutors arguments for death.

Posted by: Anne from Iowa | Aug 10, 2017 6:37:17 PM

You are violating the exception fallacy. Because of a car crash, stop all driving until it is perfected. Because of a medical error, stop all medical care until it is perfected. No.

Here is something 100% true.

All death penalties are appealed. All appeals are scams to steal tax payer money in the $hundreds of millions a year. They are arguments about loopholes in the law, and not about false verdicts. Once ended, that money should be returned to the tax payer after the entire death penalty appellate scam operation is fired.

A dose response curve applies to all remedies If the death penalty is to work, it must be moved from the rare, ineffective end of the dose response curve. So limiting the number, then saying, it does not work is intellectual fraud. The Europeans hypocrites kill hundreds of criminals in each country, by suicide and prison murders. We should adopt this form of hypocrisy, as very effective.

Finally, the opiate overdose crisis will make crime disappear entirely, not just murder.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 10, 2017 7:05:05 PM

I agree with Anne from Iowa. The jurors increasingly suspect that prosecutors are hiding the ball. Too many cases like that of Michael Morton in Texas.

Posted by: Emily | Aug 11, 2017 12:13:52 AM

Yes, Joe, that is precisely right: the US is a capital punishment nation that actually administers the death penalty, but does not really actively use its death penalty systems.

Posted by: Doug B | Aug 11, 2017 11:25:33 AM

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)
John Donne, 1572 - 1631

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Posted by: Emily from Iowa | Aug 11, 2017 4:08:06 PM

"Yes, Joe, that is precisely right: the US is a capital punishment nation that actually administers the death penalty, but does not really actively use its death penalty systems."

When someone is "inactive," such as a player in a sport, it doesn't usually mean they are active sporadically. So, yes, it's a tad confusing.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 11, 2017 4:15:36 PM

"...but does not really actively use its death penalty systems."

The death penalty appellate business if very active, full time, raking in $hundreds of millions, if not $billions a year. The death penalty system is quite active, and serving its intended purpose.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 12, 2017 9:36:58 AM

“Indeed, it would have been odd if it had transpired that Englishmen alone are so peculiarly brutal by nature that they require some special deterrent from murder which nearly all the civilised countries of the world have found unnecessary in practice - in many cases for generations.”
Gerald Gardiner Capital Punishment as a Deterrent, London, Gollanz, 1956. p 56

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Aug 13, 2017 4:13:10 PM

“Those who would abolish capital punishment are not urging British to embark upon a new and hazardous experiment, or traverse uncharted seas, but merely to follow the lead of the many other countries where the death penalty as already dispensed with.”
Calvert Roy. Capital Punishment in the Twentieth Century. Putnam. London. 1927 p 45

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Aug 13, 2017 4:13:44 PM

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