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March 22, 2020

Might COVID-19 ultimately bring an end to the death penalty in the United States?

Upon seeing this new story, headlined "U.S. Coronavirus Lockdown to Last 10-12 Weeks, Top Trump Official Says," I am now thinking it may not be too early to start wondering if one echo effect of this global pandemic could be the functional or formal end to the death penalty in the United States.  Texas has already postponed two executions (links below), and that furthers my thinking that there is now a real possibility we might not end up having any more executions in 2020.  Moreover, I would be surprised if any new executions get scheduled for 2020 even if some existing executions dates stay in place later in the year.  Consequently, the US would seem to now be on pace for its lowest number of executions in nearly four decades.

Further, at this time of extraordinary uncertainty and disruption and social distancing, it is essentially impossible to conduct a fair and orderly capital trial.  As courts struggle to figure out how to keep functioning at all during this period, on-going capital trials should and likely will be suspended (and perhaps resolved via pleas).  New capital cases are unlikely to be brought, and I see now a real possibility that we might not end up having any more capital sentences imposed in 2020.  This DPIC fact sheet details that we had 34 death sentences in 2019; I will be surprised if we end up with more than 10 in 2020. 

We will get back to some form of normal before too long, I hope.  But the likely economic woes the country will be facing as we rebuild necessarily means we are going to need to be more efficient and effective in our use of limited government time and resources.  As those who work in capital systems know well, modern death penalty administration is the antithesis of efficient and effective use of government time and resources.  Whatever happens with the death penalty while we deal with COVID-19, I think there will be very strong arguments that this punishment is a kind of "legal luxury" that we really cannot and ought not invest resources in while we try to rebuild after COVID-19.

Prior related capital COVID posts:

March 22, 2020 at 01:03 PM | Permalink


Leftists are using this pandemic to usher in their insidious agenda of lax law enforcement and wholesale release of inmates(which they will label non violent offenders). They will be successful unless rationality prevails.

Posted by: mjs | Mar 22, 2020 6:45:35 PM

mjs - your blinkered view of the world and society into "leftists" and the rest is very much becoming a minority one, at last. It has long been apparent in the US that some of the most ardent law reformists are now Republican and that commonsense and understanding that the experiment of high incarceration and extreme sentencing has failed big time, and has cost and continues to cost the justice system, economy and social fabric of society disproportionately to either need or desirability.

doug - a terrific post and I pray your predictions come true.

Posted by: peter | Mar 23, 2020 2:58:10 AM

My view is anything but blinkered. Instead, it is instructed by 35 years of experience at all levels of government. Law and order proponents may be facing headwinds at present((mainly from Soros-based big city prosecutors) but I am confident that rationality will prevail once the cost of these myopic "reform" measures hit home.

Posted by: mjs | Mar 23, 2020 10:40:59 AM

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