Death Penalty Information Center’s 2013 Annual Report: Use of Death Penalty Declining

Today, December 19, 2013, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) released its annual report on the latest developments in capital punishment in the United States. Read the full report, “The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report” (here).

According to Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director:

“Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure. The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades. More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice.”

Highlights of the 2013 Death Penalty Information Center annual report include:

• In 2013, executions declined, fewer states imposed death sentences, and the size of death row decreased compared to the previous year.

• Public support for capital punishment registered a 40-year low.

• There were 39 executions in the U.S., marking only the second time in 19 years that there were less than 40.

• Just two states, Texas (16) and Florida (7), were responsible for 59% of the executions.

• The number of death sentences (80) remained near record lows, and several major death penalty states, including Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana, imposed no death sentences this year.

Maryland became the sixth state in six years to abolish capital punishment.

• In 2013, 82% of the executions were carried out in the South.

• 85% of counties in the U.S. have not had a single case resulting in an execution in more than 45 years.

• Only about 1% of counties had a case resulting in an execution this year.

A concluding summary of the report references the issue of “mistakes:”

“The problems of mistakes, unfairness, and even the method of execution have exasperated many supporters of the death penalty, contributing to less reliance on capital punishment. Death sentences in Texas have declined by almost 80% since 1999. When examined on a county basis, only 2% of U.S. counties are responsible for the majority of executions and prisoners on death row. Because of restrictions by drug manufacturers, states have been forced to try new combinations of lethal drugs, some obtained from questionable sources, to carry out executions.

The history of the death penalty shows that none of these problems is easily fixed, and new ones are almost certain to arise. The death penalty is increasingly seen by both proponents and opponents as a failed program that may not be worth attempts to repair it.”

The report suggests that a growing awareness of the troubling intersection of wrongful conviction and the death penalty is one of the contributors to a trend of less reliance on capital punishment, and the record on nearly making such a mistake is sobering.

According to The National Registry of Exonerations (here), of 1,269 known exonerations in the United States since 1989, 105 — more than 8 percent — were persons who had been sentenced to death. Discovery of their wrongful convictions and subsequent exonerations prevented implementation of the death penalty in these cases.

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