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December 25, 2007

Noticing Texas's domination of the death penalty in 2007

Writing in the New York Times, Adam Liptak has this new article headlined "At 60% of Total, Texas Is Bucking Execution Trend."  Here is how it starts:

This year’s death penalty bombshells — a de facto national moratorium, a state abolition and the smallest number of executions in more than a decade — have masked what may be the most significant and lasting development.  For the first time in the modern history of the death penalty, more than 60 percent of all American executions took place in Texas.

Over the past three decades, the proportion of executions nationwide performed in Texas has held relatively steady, averaging 37 percent.  Only once before, in 1986, has the state accounted for even a slight majority of the executions, and that was in a year with 18 executions nationwide.

But enthusiasm for executions outside of Texas has dropped sharply. Of the 42 executions in the last year, 26 were in Texas.  The remaining 16 were spread across nine other states, none of which executed more than three people.  Many legal experts say the trend will probably continue.

As the Liptak article notes, lower court lethal injection litigation in many states partially explains why Texas dominated in 2007, as I noted in this May post when Texas had conducted 13 of the first 15 executions for the year.   (Interestingly, as this execution list from DPIC details, from May through July, only 6 of 17 execution took place in Texas, but thereafter Texas had 7 of the last 10 executions before the Baze moratorium kicked in.)

December 25, 2007 at 11:20 PM | Permalink


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It's worth noting that 40% of all of the death sentences in Texas come out of Harris County (there are 254 counties in Texas). So, this one county is responsible for about a quarter of US executions in 2007.

What is wrong with Harris County jurors?

Posted by: bruce | Dec 26, 2007 12:01:57 AM

that's another reason not to move to Houston.

Posted by: EJ | Dec 26, 2007 1:55:47 AM

It's also another reason to make the taxpayers of a county in which a case is tried capitally bear one half of the expense of the litigation. Why should the rest of the state pay for Harris county's enthusiasm for the death penalty? As I have said many times, in the capital arena there is too much political accountability for judges and too little accountability for prosecutors.

bruce cunningham

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Dec 26, 2007 1:09:56 PM

EJ: ditto. But, it should be for all of Texas.

Posted by: bernie kleinman | Dec 26, 2007 4:36:13 PM

The article answers Bruce's question:

"Indeed, according to a 2004 study by three professors of law and statistics at Cornell published in The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Texas prosecutors and juries were no more apt to seek and impose death sentences than those in the rest of the country.

“Texas’ reputation as a death-prone state should rest on its many murders and on its willingness to execute death-sentenced inmates,” the authors of the study, Theodore Eisenberg, John H. Blume and Martin T. Wells, wrote. “It should not rest on the false belief that Texas has a high rate of sentencing convicted murderers to death.”

Posted by: S | Dec 27, 2007 6:15:33 PM

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