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September 15, 2004

Death is different

Adam Liptak has another potent article discussing data soon to be released by the Death Penalty Information Center documenting a steep decline in death sentences in the United States in recent years. Here are some key passages from the article:

The Death Penalty Information Center, which is to release the report tomorrow, attributes the decline largely to growing public awareness of death-row exonerations and concerns that innocent people might be sentenced to die.... In 2003, there were 143 death sentences issued, the fewest since 1977, the year after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

"This is the single most interesting fact about the death penalty in the United States in the last two or three decades," said James S. Liebman, a law professor at Columbia and an expert on capital punishment....

The report's description of the decline in death sentences is based largely on data from the Justice Department and is not disputed by supporters of the death penalty. But the report's thesis — that exonerations play a major role — as well as its data on the number of people exonerated are the subject of debate.

The rest of the NY Times article discusses disputes over the exact number of innocent people who have been released from death row and also examines other possible causes for the decline in death sentences.

I will post a link to the DPIC report when it is available. Obviously the report will provide quite significant information about the administration of capital punishment. But it also serves as a useful reminder of the different factors that can influence jury sentencing.

UPDATE: The DPIC has released this press release about its forthcoming report, and also to be found on the DPIC website is this executive summary of the report which is entitled "Innocence and the Crisis in the American Death Penalty." As indicated in these materials, the full report will be available on the DPIC website on September 20, 2004.

September 15, 2004 at 09:14 AM | Permalink


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