50 Facts About the Death Penalty

 

Facts on Innocence
Facts on Trends

Facts on Public Opinion
Facts on Cost
Facts on Deterrence
Facts on Race
Facts on Geography
Facts on Life Without Parole
Facts on Foreign Nationals
Facts on Federal Death Penalty
Facts on Lethal Injection
Facts on Clemency


Unless otherwise stated, all facts below are accurate as of June 1, 2015.

Facts on Innocence

Since 1973, 153 people have been exonerated from death row.

Many of these individuals were convicted based on flawed evidence or testimony. Some were convicted based on forced confessions given under duress. Many were the victims of prosecutorial misconduct.  On average, it took more than 11 years after these 153 people were sentenced to death before they were exonerated. 10 of the exonerations since 2013 occurred 30 or more years after the wrongful conviction.

For more information, take a look at our page on Innocence.

False informant testimony is the top cause of wrongful convictions in capital cases according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

For more information, check out Innocence and Causes of Wrongful Convictions.

Only 20 of the 153 exonerations have been due to DNA evidence. This means an overwhelming majority of the exonerations have been due to factors such as False Informant Testimony. 

For more information, check out Innocence, Innocence List and Causes of Wrongful Convictions.

At least 10 people have been executed despite serious doubts about their guilt. 

Several high profile law enforcement efficials, judges, and justices have recently been quoted as saying that there certainly have been innocent individuals who have been executed. 

For more information, check out: New VoicesInnocenceExecuted Despite Doubts About Guilt

26 States have had at least one death row exoneration. That's more than half of all the states, and three of these states no longer have the death penalty on their books. 

For more information, check out InnocenceInnocence List

Seven people were exonerated from death row in 2014. Three in Ohio, two in North Carolina, and one each in Louisiana and Florida. There were 9 exonerations in 2009. As of May 15, there have been three exonerations in 2015.

For more information, check out InnocenceInnocence List

Six of seven exonerations in 2014 occurred at least 30 years after the inmate's conviction. The average time spent on death row for all exonerated individuals is over 11 years.

For more information, check out InnocenceInnocence List

The three states with the most exonerations are Florida, with 25, Illinois, with 20, and Texas, with 12.

For more information, check out Exonerations by StateInnocenceInnocence List

Facts on Death Penalty Trends

Less than half as many executions were carried out in 2014 as were carried out in 1999, when executions peaked. 

For more information, check out Executions, Executions in 2014and Executions by Year

 

Death sentences have declined by 75% since their peak in the mid-1990s.

For more information, check out 2014 Sentencing, Death Sentences by State and Year 

In 2014, death sentences reached their lowest level in 40 years with only 73 people sentenced to death. 

For more information, check out 2014 SentencingDeath Sentences by State and Year

Six states have abolished the death penalty since 2007, New YorkNew Jersey, New MexicoIllinois, Connecticut, and Maryland.

UPDATE:  On May 27, 2015, Nebraska repealed its death penalty statute, becoming the seventh state to have done so since 2007.

 

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for juveniles. The U.S. was one of the last countries that allowed the death penalty for offenders under 18.

For more information, check out Juveniles, and International.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities.

For more information, check out Intellectual Disability, and U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. death row population peaked in 2000, with 3,682 inmates. The number of people on death row has dropped every year since, declining to 3,054 in 2014.

For more information, check out Death Row, and Sentencing.

In 2014, only 7 states carried out executions. 80% of the year's executions took place in just three states: Missouri, Texas, and Florida.

For more information, check out Sentencing.

In 1999, Texas sentenced 48 people to death. For the past seven years, Texas has averaged less than 9 sentences per year.

For more information, check out Texas, and Death Sentences By State.

31 states, plus the Federal government, have had no executions in the last 5 years.

For more information, check out Executions in 2014Federal Executions Since 1927, and Executions by Year.

23 states, plus the Federal government, have had no executions in the last 10 years.

For more information, check out Executions in 2014, Federal Executions Since 1927, and Executions by Year.

Facts on Public Opinion

Public support for the death penalty reached a forty-year low in 2013, with 60% of Americans saying they support capital punishment.

For more information, check out Public Opinion

A 2014 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found that a majority of Americans (52%) prefer life without parole as punishment for murder, with just 42% preferring the death penalty.

For more information, check out Public Opinion

Facts on Cost

Studies on the cost of the death penalty have consistently shown that the death penalty is far more expensive than a system using life sentences as the most severe punishment.

For more information, check out Costs.

The ultimate cost to taxpayers for 30 years of the death penalty in Maryland was $186 million, resulting in 5 executions.

For more information, check out Costs, and Maryland.

The average cost for just the defense at trial in a federal death penalty case is about 8 times that of a non-capital murder case.

For more information, check out Costs, and Federal Death Penalty.

California, which has the largest death row in the country, has spent over $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978, while carrying out just 13 executions.

For more information, check out Costs, and California

Facts on Deterrence

In a national survey, U.S. police chiefs ranked the death penalty last in their priorities for effective crime reduction.

For more information, check out Deterrence, and Law Enforcement Views on Deterrence.

A 2012 report by the National Research Council found that existing research on deterrence was “not informative,” and concluded, “the committee recommends that these studies not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide.”

For more information, check out the report here, and our page on Deterrence

The South has consistently had the highest murder rate while accounting for 80% of the country's executions.

For more information, check out Murder Rates

The Northeast has consistently had the lowest murder rate, while accounting for less than 1% of the country's executions

For more information, check out Murder Rates

In 2012, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 4.7, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 3.7

For more information, check out Murder Rates

Facts on Race

A North Carolina study found that the odds of receiving a death sentence were 3.5 times higher if the victim was white than if the victim was another race.

For more information, check out Race, and Death Row

Over 75% of capital cases resulting in an executions involved white victims even though nationally only about 50% of murder victims are white.

For more information, check out Race, and Death Row

Since 1976, there have been 293 black defendants executed for killing a white victim, while 31 white defendants havebeen executed for killing a black victim.

For more information, check out Race, and Death Row

African-Americans make up 42% of death row inmates, but represent only 13% of the general population.

For more information, check out Race, and Death Row

35% of inmates who have been executed were black, even though blacks make up only about 13% of the general population.

For more information, check out Race, and Death Row

The percentage of Hispanics on death row grew from just 7% in 1994 to about 13% in 2014.

For more information, check out Race, and Death Row

In three states, racial minorities make up over 70% of death row inmates: Delaware, Texas, and Louisiana.

For more information, check out Race, and Death Row

According to a 2014 study, jurors in Washington state are three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than for a white defendant in a similar case.

For more information, check out Race 

Facts on Geography

Just 2% of counties in the U.S. accounted for over 50% of the executions since 1976.

For more information, check out THE 2% DEATH PENALTY:How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All

As of 2013, just 2% of counties in the U.S. accounted for 56% of death row inmates.

For more information, check out THE 2% DEATH PENALTY:How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All

Only 15% of American counties have ever had a case result in an execution, as of 2013.

For more information, check out THE 2% DEATH PENALTY:How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All

All of the 3,125 inmates on death row as of January 1, 2013 came from just 20% of U.S. counties. A majority (56%) of death row inmates came from just 2% of counties.

 

For more information, check out THE 2% DEATH PENALTY:How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All

Facts on Life Without Parole

Every state that has the death penalty also offers a sentence of life without parole.

For more information, check out Life Without Parole.

Facts on Foreign Nationals

Of the 139 foreign citizens on death row in the U.S., 91 are from countries that do not have the death penalty.

For more information, check out Foreign Nationals and International.

Facts on the Federal Death Penalty

There are 62 people on federal death row, including 6 from states that do not have their own death penalty.

For more information, check out Federal Death Penalty.

Facts on Lethal Injection

Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in every death penalty state.

For more information, check out Lethal Injection and Methods of Execution.

Since 2010, states have used at least 7 different lethal injection protocols.

For more information, check out Lethal Injection and Executions.

In 2014, three executions involving experimental lethal injection protocols were botched, causing the inmates to gasp, choke, and writhe during the execution.

For more information, check out Botched Executions.

All European and many American pharmaceutical companies have banned the use of their drugs in executions.

For more information, check out Lethal Injection and Statements from Drug Manufacturers

Facts on Clemency

Other than blanket clemencies of all people on a state's death row, there have been only 69 clemencies since 1976, less than 2 per year for all of the states with the death penalty.

For more information, check out Clemency.