Facts & Research

Murder Rates

State and regional murder statistics show no correlation between use of the death penalty and reduced crime.

Overview

The foundation for the death penalty in the U.S. rests on whether it is necessary as a response to murder. About 40 percent of the states have ended the use of capital punishment. Of the remaining states that retain it, only a few use it on a regular basis. The murder rates of states with and without the death penalty are relevant to whether it is justified. The murder rate for the country as a whole over various time periods is also a barometer of whether or not the public will be in favor of harsher punishments for crime. Murder rates, which are the result of dividing the number of murders by the population of a jurisdiction, can be more useful in comparing states and countries than the absolute number of murders committed.

At Issue

In trying to measure whether the use of the death penalty has an effect on the level of violent crime, researchers often use murder rates and compare them with the practice of the death penalty, either through the number of executions or death sentences. This is problematic on a national basis because the death penalty is not available in many states, and where it is carried out, the executions amount to only a tiny percentage of the murders committed. Even when comparing states, it is difficult to single out whether the relatively rare use of the death penalty is causing a change in crime or whether the change is attributable to other causes such as the rate of employment, the quality of education, or many other local variables.

What DPIC Offers

DPIC has collected statistics published by the FBI on the murder rates in each state for each year, each geographical region, and for the country as a whole. DPIC deepens the analysis by noting whether each state had the death penalty for the time period in question. Murder rates can easily be compared with other available data, such as the number of executions, death sentences, and the size of death row.


Data Sources:


News & Developments


Sep 25, 2018

FBI Crime Report Shows Murder Rates Stable in 2017

The FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2017, released by the U.S. Department of Justice, reports that mur­der rates sta­bi­lized across the United States in 2017, decreas­ing mar­gin­al­ly com­pared to adjust­ed homi­cide fig­ures from 20

Jun 02, 2015

TIME Magazine Poses Five Reasons for Death Penalty Decline

In a cov­er sto­ry for TIME Magazine, award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and TIME edi­tor-at-large David Von Drehle explores the decline of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in the U.S. Von Drehle offers five sig­nif­i­cant rea­sons for the drop…

Nov 26, 2014

FBI Reports Continued Decline in Police Officers Killed

On November 24, the FBI released a report on law enforce­ment offi­cers killed in the line of duty in 2013. Twenty-sev­en (27) offi­cers were killed in felo­nious acts,” a 45% drop com­pared to 2012, when 49 offi­cers were killed, and a 53% decline sinc…