Facts & Research

Sentencing Data

More than 8,500 people have been sentenced to death in the United States since the 1970s. New death sentences have remained near record lows since 2015 after having peaked at more than 300 per year in the mid 1990s.

DPIC Report: The 2% Death Penalty

How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All

DPIC Page: Ring v. Arizona

Supreme Court Declares Defendants Have a Right to Jury Determination of Eligibility for Death Sentence


The number of annual executions in the U.S. does not necessarily reflect the current public mood about the death penalty because executions typically occur fifteen or more years after a death sentence has been handed down. The number of executions is also affected by reversals on appeal and clemencies granted. Death sentences, on the other hand, are a timely measure of prosecutors’ decisions to seek death and juries’ unanimous votes to impose it.

However, it is also difficult to discern public sentiment on the death penalty from the number of death sentences. These sentences vary greatly among the states, even when measured on a per capita basis. Moreover, the sentences are often clustered in particular counties within a state. Counties with the highest number of murders do not always produce the most death sentences. Nevertheless, it is relevant that the national annual number of death sentences has declined by over 80 percent during the past 25 years.

At Issue

One might expect that the number of death sentences would be directly proportional to the number of murders committed in a jurisdiction, but that is not often the case. For example, the number of death sentences in the U.S. has plummeted since 2000 while the country’s murder rate has remained fairly stable. The local use of the death penalty is strongly affected by the views of the county’s district attorney, by racial factors, and by the financial resources available in particular jurisdictions.

What DPIC Offers

Statistics are available on the number of death sentences by jurisdiction and year. Recent data include racial information on sentences. Death sentences can be easily compared to the murder rates for various jurisdictions and time periods.

For more information about state-by-state sentencing procedures, see DPIC’s pages on Ring v. Arizona and Sentencing Alternatives.

News & Developments


Mar 07, 2019

Study Reports More Than Three-Fold Drop in Pursuit of Death Penalty by Pennsylvania Prosecutors

A new study of four­teen years of Pennsylvania mur­der con­vic­tions has doc­u­ment­ed a sharp decline in coun­ty pros­e­cu­tors’ use of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment across the Commonwealth. After exam­in­ing the court files of 4,184 mur­der con­vic­tions from 2004 to 2017, the Allentown Morning Call found that Pennsylvania pros­e­cu­tors sought the death penal­ty at more than triple the rate (3.3) at the start of the study peri­od than they did four­teen years lat­er — a drop of more than 70%. In 2004, the paper report­ed, pros­e­cu­tors sought the death penal­ty in 123 of…

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Jul 21, 2023

Texas Jury Sentences ex-USBP Agent Who Committed Two Murders to Life Without Parole Instead of Death

On July 18, 2023, after about nine hours of delib­er­a­tion, a Texas jury sen­tenced for­mer Supervisory United States Border Patrol agent Ronald Anthony Burgos-Aviles, age 34, to life with­out parole (LWOP) instead of death for the 2018 dou­ble mur­der of Grizelda Hernandez, age 27, and their son Dominic Alexander, age 1. This sen­tenc­ing ver­dict occurred in a high-use death penal­ty state; Texas has car­ried out the great­est num­ber of exe­cu­tions, at 583, of any state since 1976. But over the last two decades, the num­ber of new death sen­tences in Texas…

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Mar 22, 2023

Federal Government Announces Withdrawal of Intent to Seek Death in North Dakota Case

On March 14, 2023, at the direc­tion of Attorney General Merrick Garland (pic­tured), the U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota with­drew the notice of intent to seek a death sen­tence for Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr., who had been con­vict­ed in 2006 of the 2003 kid­nap­ping and killing of col­lege stu­dent Dru Sjodin. Rodriguez had orig­i­nal­ly been sen­tenced to death in 2007, but U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Erickson reversed the death sen­tence because of mis­lead­ing tes­ti­mo­ny pre­sent­ed at tri­al from the coro­ner and fail­ures of defense coun­sel to explore…

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Mar 15, 2023

From The Marshall Project: The Mercy Workers” —The Unique Role of Mitigation Specialists in Death Penalty Cases

During the sen­tenc­ing phase of cap­i­tal cas­es, sym­pa­thet­ic evi­dence about the life of the defen­dant is typ­i­cal­ly pre­sent­ed to jurors, who then must decide whether such mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors mer­it spar­ing his or her life. Mitigation spe­cial­ists play a cru­cial role in col­lect­ing such evi­dence. They doc­u­ment the trau­mas, pol­i­cy fail­ures, fam­i­ly dynam­ics and indi­vid­ual choic­es that shape the lives of peo­ple who kill.” According to an arti­cle from The Marshall Project, there are few­er than 1,000 mit­i­ga­tions spe­cial­ists nation­wide, yet they’ve helped dri­ve down death sen­tences from more than 300

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Mar 01, 2023

RESEARCH: History of Lynchings Linked to Increased Death Sentencing for Black Defendants

Researchers based at the University of North Carolina found a strong sta­tis­ti­cal rela­tion­ship between the lev­el of racial resent­ment in a state and the num­ber of death sen­tences hand­ed down on Black peo­ple. In par­tic­u­lar, racial resent­ment was a stronger pre­dic­tor of Black death sen­tenc­ing rates than con­ser­v­a­tive ide­ol­o­gy, even when con­trol­ling for sev­er­al fac­tors such as homi­cide and vio­lent crime rates. Writing in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, the authors not­ed: “[W]e find that racial hos­til­i­ty trans­lates direct­ly into more death sen­tences, par­tic­u­lar­ly for Black offenders.”

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Feb 10, 2023

STUDIES: Raising the Age of Those Eligible for the Death Penalty Would Likely Reduce Racial Disparities

Professor Craig Haney (pic­tured) of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Professor Frank Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Karen Steele, a crim­i­nal defense attor­ney in Oregon, exam­ined age and race data from near­ly 9,000 death sen­tences imposed in the U.S. from 1972 to 2021. They found that the racial dis­par­i­ties that plague the death penal­ty were more pro­nounced in cas­es involv­ing juve­nile and late ado­les­cent defen­dants. Building on the find­ings of a 2022 study by Baumgartner, the authors found that, Late ado­les­cent class members…

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Dec 16, 2022

DPIC 2022 Year End Report: Commutation of Oregon Death Row Headlines U.S. Death-Penalty Decline in a Year Marred by Botched Executions

The death penal­ty con­tin­ued its long-term decline in the U.S. in 2022, as Oregon com­mut­ed its death row and new death sen­tences and pub­lic sup­port for the death penal­ty remained near 50-year lows. But per­haps more dra­mat­i­cal­ly than any­thing else, the for­ti­eth anniver­sary of lethal injec­tion could be known as the Year of the Botched Execution,” the Death Penalty Information Center said in its 2022 Year End Report.

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Sep 14, 2022

BOOKS: Geometrical Justice: The Death Penalty in America”

The out­come of a cap­i­tal pros­e­cu­tion can be pre­dict­ed based upon the rel­a­tive social sta­tus of the vic­tim, the defen­dant, and the jurors, apply­ing a soci­ol­o­gy con­cept known as the geo­met­ri­cal the­o­ry of law, accord­ing to the authors of a new book, Geometrical Justice: The Death Penalty in America.

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