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December 16, 2015

DPIC releases year-end report highlighting death penalty use "declines sharply" in 2015

Yr2015sentences-fbThis press release from the Death Penalty Information Center, titled "Death Penalty Use in 2015 Declines Sharply: Fewest Executions, Fewest Death Sentences, and Fewest States Employing the Death Penalty in Decades," provides a summary of the DPIC's 2015 year-end report on the administration of the death penalty in the United States. Here are excerpts from the press report:

The use of the death penalty in the U.S. declined by virtually every measure in 2015.  The 28 executions this year marked the lowest number since 1991, according to a report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).  As of December 15, fourteen states and the federal government have imposed 49 new death sentences this year, a 33% decline over last year’s total and the lowest number since the early 1970s when the death penalty was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Only six states conducted executions this year, the fewest number of states in 27 years. Eighty-six percent of executions this year were concentrated in just three states: Texas (13), Missouri (6), and Georgia (5).  Executions in 2015 declined 20 percent from 2014, when there were 35.   This year was the first time in 24 years that the number of executions was below 30.

Death sentences have been steadily declining in the U.S. over the past 15 years. The country has now imposed fewer death sentences in the past ten years than in the decade just before the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. “The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare and increasingly isolated in the United States. These are not just annual blips in statistics, but reflect a broad change in attitudes about capital punishment across the country,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report....

Relatively few jurisdictions handed down death sentences in 2015. A single county — Riverside, California — imposed 16% of all death sentences in the U.S., and accounted for more death verdicts than any state, except for Florida. More than a quarter of the death sentences were imposed by Florida and Alabama after non-unanimous jury recommendations of death — a practice barred in all but three states.  Texas, by contrast, imposed only two new death sentences in 2015.  Nearly two-thirds of all new death sentences this year came from the same two percent of U.S. counties that are responsible for more than half of all death-sentenced inmates nationwide.

Even as the use of the death penalty declined, its most dangerous flaw remained apparent.  Six death row prisoners were exonerated of all charges this year, one each in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas. Since 1973, a total of 156 inmates have been exonerated and freed from death row.  The number of people on death row dropped below 3,000 for the first time since 1995, according to the latest survey by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

At least 70 death row prisoners with execution dates in 2015 received stays, reprieves, or commutations, 2.5 times the number who were executed.

I have reprinted above the DPIC graphic emphasizing the continued decline in the number of death sentences imposed each year because I view that metric as the most significant and consequential in any serious discussion of the present status and future prospects of capital punishment throughout the US.

December 16, 2015 at 10:28 AM | Permalink


With so many people on death row, wonder how long this would take to have much of an effect.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 16, 2015 11:32:35 AM

Ah, the DPIC, ever the trustworthy and totally neutral source on capital punishment... :-)

Posted by: J.D. | Dec 16, 2015 1:18:05 PM

It is possible to research actual executions and find there was reasonable doubt given today's advances in forensic science. Hopefully more writers will look into this and find more examples. Not only do wrongful convictions result in wrongful freedom for the factually guilty, but a wrongful execution is akin to legal murder and it too leaves the guilty free to murder again. A criminal justice system that prides itself as being the best in the world must do better.

Posted by: George | Dec 16, 2015 8:47:46 PM

"A criminal justice system that prides itself as being the best in the world must do better."

Yes, and that includes not wasting precious resources on death slog litigation over factually guilty capital defendants.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 17, 2015 9:57:30 AM

j.D, you write, "Ah, the DPIC, ever the trustworthy and totally neutral source on capital punishment... :-" Do you have any evidence that the statisitics cited are incorrect? If so, please show us.

Posted by: anon12 | Dec 17, 2015 9:58:18 AM

We can start with this one: "156 inmates have been exonerated and freed from death row."

A fair number of those 156 got away with murder. Ask yourself, was Mel Ignatow "exonerated"? He's not on the list, but his case is an interesting insight into the false negatives that can and do happen. Kirk Bloodworth didn't do it, and was exonerated. The 156 ain't all Kirk Bloodworths--and it's the height of sophistry for DPIC to treat the 156 as if they are.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 17, 2015 11:36:25 AM

federalist: "Yes, and that includes not wasting precious resources on death slog litigation over factually guilty capital defendants."

Those lawyers who practiced "death slog litigation" until their "factually guilty" death row clients were exonerated 25, 30, 35... years after their death sentences deserve to be proud of their efforts.

Posted by: George | Dec 17, 2015 3:45:29 PM

We need 10,000 executions a year, the entire violent birth cohort. Not to deter. To attrit.

To reach these violent predators, their protectors, their privilegers, their empowerers, the entire hierarchy of the lawyer profession will need to be arrested, get an hour's fair trial, and summarily executed. These 25,000 cult enforcers are in insurrection against the constitution, and traitors to this nation. The sole evidence against them will be their legal utterances, and not any lawyer gotcha or collateral corruption. Their now immune legal utterances are the treason.

Then all scores get settled with the criminals, the terrorists outside the nation, and the internal traitors seeking to make our nation fail.

If a terrorist nuclear device is set off on our shores because of the betrayal of this criminal cult enterprise, there will be concentration camps, and it is unknown how many internal traitors will be executed.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 18, 2015 1:33:42 AM

The lawyer traitor has chosen. He has chosen to have 15,000 people executed by his client, the violent predator. Half the victims are dark skinned, so this racist does not care.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 18, 2015 1:35:18 AM

George, your attack on me is unjustified. I fully support looking at cases where there are innocence issues--problem is "Wolf" gets cried far too often (e.g., Troy Davis) and resources are misallocated.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 18, 2015 5:17:55 PM

I must of forgot to press Post after Preview.

That was not an attack, federalist. I know you support finding wrongful convictions. It was merely an attempt to point out that all of the exonerated were factually guilty until they were exonerated. Maybe "actually guilty" would be more accurate but that would entail the same problem. Someone wrongfully executed was factually guilty according to the law but was actually not guilty. It's a distinction with a difference.

Posted by: George | Dec 19, 2015 2:24:42 PM

ok, sorry George, my bad.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 21, 2015 10:40:36 AM

No problem.

Posted by: George | Dec 21, 2015 12:41:24 PM

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