Sunday, February 24, 2013

Executions Are Becoming Rare In U.S.

The above map is from Think Progress, and it shows the states that still have the death penalty and those that don't. They printed the map because it looks like Maryland will soon become one of the states that has abolished the death penalty.

I was intrigued by the numbers in the white blocks of each state -- the number of executions that the state has carried out since 1976 (when the constitutionality of the death penalty was clarified). Note that only 9 states have averaged at least 1 execution per year in the last 36 years (Texas-481, Virginia-109, Oklahoma-98, Florida-73, Missouri-68, Alabama-55, Georgia-52, North Carolina-43, and South Carolina-43). The other 41 states have averaged less than 1 execution each year -- most of them far less than that.

And only four states have averaged at least 2 executions each year (Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Florida). The fact is that executions are becoming more rare in this country with each passing year. Even in Texas, which has carried out a third of all executions since 1976, the number of death penalties given by juries and carried out by the state has dropped sharply in the last few years.

This brings up an interesting question. As the death penalty becomes more rarely used in the United States, how rare will it have to be before it is deemed to have become a "cruel and unusual" punishment (which would make it unconstitutional)? It is already used less than once per year by four-fifths of the 50 states. How much lower must it get before reaching the definition for "cruel and unusual"? Can only four states carry the burden of keeping it constitutional?

These are questions that need to be answered. But it is a question that can only be answered by the Supreme Court, and with executions becoming more rare all the time (even in blood-thirsty Texas) the question might well have to be answered by that court in the next few years.


  1. I read a book on the death penalty a few years back that went through how the death penalty was sort of dying on its own. Even Texas has slowed down quite a bit from its 1990's heyday.

    Looking at this map, though, I am struck by how MANY people are on death row!

  2. Texas is obviously the top execution state, but Oklahoma's figure of 98 is startling considering how small its population is. Per-capita, it's probably comparable to the Texas figure.

    The point that needs to be hammered home is how often innocent people are mistakenly convicted of crimes. These days more and more people are being freed after decades in prison because more advanced technology is now available to analyze the evidence that convicted them. But how many of the people executed even in the last few decades were actually innocent? This needs to be researched too.


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