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December 11, 2004

Death is definitely different this month

I have previously noted declines in the number of death sentences and in the number of executions as statistical evidence suggesting the death penalty is on the decline in the United States.  But yesterday while talking to a reporter I discovered an even more remarkable capital development, which perhaps marks the start of a new modern death penalty era:

Due to the fact, noted here, that the last six executions scheduled for 2004 were all stayed, this December will be the first month without an execution in the United States since July 1994.

Using this reality as useful markers, it is interesting to note that, as detailed in this DPIC chart, from 1985 through 1994, the US averaged 23 executions per year, but from 1995 through 2004 the US has averaged 69 executions per year. 

Speculating on what these number are going to look like from 2005 to 2014, the still-huge size of death row suggests that the number of yearly executions will not drop dramatically in the coming years.  But recent polls indicating declining support for the death penalty, combined with heightened Supreme Court scrutiny of capital cases, leads me to predict we may have a lot more execution-free months in the coming years.  (For thoughtful perspective on what the death penalty might look like in 2022, consider this great piece by Professors Carol Steiker and Jordan Steiker from the inaugural issue of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.)

The Supreme Court's latest grant of cert. in the Medellin foreign nationals case (excellently covered by the New York Times and by TalkLeft), as well as the international aspect of the Roper juvenile case now before the Court (background here), highlights that our approach to capital punishment may, slowly but surely, become more in line international perspectives on the death penalty.  This reality suggests that the Professor Steikers may indeed be clairvoyant when they forecast, in their article's title, that we could see "Abolition in Our Time."

UPDATE: This article from Reuters has picked up the story of an execution-free month and does a great job discussing the factors influencing, and future of, the death penalty in the US.

December 11, 2004 at 07:46 AM | Permalink


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» Death On Holiday from Duophony
Douglas A. Berman notes optimistically, the December, 2004 will be the first month since July, 1994, that no executions took place. Furthermore, Professor Berman predicts an overall decline to continue in the short-term future.... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 12, 2004 5:59:48 AM

» Jury Recommends Death For Scott Peterson: from The Volokh Conspiracy
If you read the VC, you probably don't care about the Scott Peterson trial. It doesn't raise any interesting legal issues, and worse, gets the uberannoying Nancy Grace on TV all the time. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 13, 2004 5:24:38 PM


Interesting article

Posted by: Mike | Dec 11, 2004 12:52:07 PM

Seems wishful thinking. Or, if you are in favor of the death penalty, just fantasy. My understanding is that months going by without an execution were not uncommon pre-1994. Strangely, however, that didn't mean the end of the death penalty.

Posted by: Professor Fred | Dec 12, 2004 11:19:53 AM

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