DPIC Releases New Report, "Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty"

On November 10, on the eve of Veterans' Day, the Death Penalty Information Center released a new report, Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty. The report examines the plight of U.S. military veterans who have been sentenced to death, estimating that about 300 veterans are currently on death row. Many of these veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other mental disabilities caused or exacerbated by their time in combat. Often when these veterans were on trial facing the death penalty, their military service and related illnesses were barely presented to the jury. The first person executed in 2015, Andrew Brannan, was a decorated Vietnam veteran with PTSD, who had been granted 100% disability by the Veterans Administration. His combat trauma was largely unexplored at trial, and the Georgia Pardons Board denied him clemency. DPIC's press release noted: "As the country prepares to honor its military veterans on November 11, it may be a sobering and surprising revelation that many veterans have been adjudged as 'the worst of the worst,' condemned to death, and executed by the government they once served." The report urges more attention be paid to veterans facing execution: "Early intervention, peer assistance from veterans, and involvement of veteran officials with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges could all be instrumental in steering a case away from the death penalty," the report states.

DPIC's Year End Report: Death Sentences Remain Near Historic Low

On December 18, the Death Penalty Information Center released its latest report, The Death Penalty in 2012: Year End Report,” on developments in capital punishment in the past year. The report noted the number of new death sentences in 2012 was the second lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, representing a nearly 75% decline since 1996, when there were 315 new death sentences. Only nine states carried out executions in 2012, equaling the fewest number of states to do so in 20 years. In 2012, use of the death penalty was clustered in a few states. Just four states (Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Arizona) were responsible for over three-quarters of executions nationwide. Death sentences were also primarily imposed in a few areas, with four states (Florida, California, Texas, and Pennsylvania) accounting for almost two-thirds of the nation’s death sentences. “Capital punishment is becoming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report. “In 2012, fewer states have the death penalty, fewer carried out executions, and death sentences and executions were clustered in a small number of states. It is very likely that more states will take up the question of death penalty repeal in the years ahead.”


STUDIES: New Report Sees Demise of California's Death Penalty

A new report on the state's death penalty system published by the ACLU of Northern California catalogs numerous intractable problems and waning public support which may lead to the end of capital punishment in the state.  According to the report, "California's Death Penalty is Dead: Anatomy of a Failure," the death penalty in California is being slowly abandoned as prosecutors, legislators and taxpayers are increasingly turning to life in prison without parole as an alternative punishment.  Only three death sentences were imposed in the state between January - June 2011, a significant decline compared to the same period last year when there were 13.  This marks the lowest number of new death sentences within a six-month period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.  The report also highlights that voters in the 2010 election opted for officials who supported replacing the death penalty over those who aggressively campaigned in favor for the death penalty.  A 2011 poll revealed that 63% of likely California voters supported commuting all existing death sentences to life without parole, thereby saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars.  The commutation proposal received support from respondents across political party lines and from all regions of the state.  Among the problems highlighted in the report are the enormous costs of the death penalty, the long delay in assigning lawyers for death penalty appeals, and the absence of any meaningful return for all the resources spent. Read full text of the report here.

STUDIES: Death Sentences in California Show Arbitrariness of the System

A new report released by the ACLU of Northern California reveals that only three counties–Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside–accounted for 83% of the state's death sentences in 2009. Los Angeles County, with 13 death sentences, was the leading death penalty county in the entire country last year. According to the report, California, with the largest death row in the country, spends $137 million annually on the death penalty, while the state is cutting back on many vital services. The report also indicated an increase in the Latino population of California's death row in recent years; 50% of the death sentences in 2007 were for Latinos even though they comprised only 36% of the state's population.

The executive summary of the report concluded, "A shift to permanent imprisonment would mean significant savings in a time of fiscal crisis, would eliminate the risk of executing the innocent, and would lead to more consistent policies across all California counties. California is on track to spend $1 billion on the death penalty in the next five years, though even more funds are required to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction and to ensure timely review of lengthy death penalty cases. For all the money dedicated to the death penalty in California, only 1 out of 100 people sentenced to death has actually been executed during the last thirty years."  Click here for the full report.

STUDIES: Innocence Network Exonerations 2009

Twenty-seven people were exonerated and released from prison this year, including some who had been on death row, according to a new report from The Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people.  The 27 exonerees served a combined 421 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.  The exonerations occurred through the work of the Innocence Project Network, which consists of 54 organizations, including 45 in the U.S.  The Innocence Project concentrates on wrongful convictions and uses DNA testing, while also promoting reform of the criminal justice system.  (Click on the thumbnail to access full text of the report.)  The most recent person exonerated was James Bain, who was imprisoned for 35 years before DNA testing revealed that someone else had committed the crime that led to his conviction.



DPIC's 2009 Year End Report Released

The Death Penalty Information Center released the “The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report” on December 18, noting that the country is expected to finish 2009 with the fewest death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Eleven states considered abolishing the death penalty this year, a significant increase in legislative activity from previous years, as the high costs and lack of measurable benefits associated with this punishment troubled lawmakers.

“The annual number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped for seven straight years and is 60% less than in the 1990s,” said Richard Dieter, the report’s author and DPIC’s executive director. “In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping.  This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty."  There were 106 death sentences in 2009 compared with a high of 328 in 1994.

New Mexico became the 15th state to abolish the death penalty, and 9 men who were sentenced to death were exonerated in 2009, the second highest number of exonerations since the death penalty was reinstated.  The total number of exonerations since 1973 has now reached 139.

(Read “The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report” here, Dec. 18, 2009.  DPIC's press release may be read here.  See also previous DPIC Reports.

DPIC Releases New Report on Costs of the Death Penalty and Police Chiefs' Views

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its latest report, "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis." The report combines an analysis of the costs of the death penalty with a newly released national poll of police chiefs who put capital punishment at the bottom of their law enforcement priorities.

Click here to read the report.
Click here to read DPIC's press release.
Click here for the Executive Summary of the report.

Death Penalty Sentences Have Dropped Considerably in the 2000s

Compared to the 1990s, there has been a marked decline in death sentences in the U.S. since 2000. Every region of the country and every state that averaged one or more death sentences per year have seen a decline in the annual number of death sentences. The chart below compares the annual number of death sentences in each state in the 1990s with the 2000s. North Carolina, California, Florida, and Texas experienced the greatest declines in sentencing.  This issue and others are addressed in the Death Penalty Information Center’s Year End Report, released December 11, 2008.