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

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

DPIC Page: Ring v. Arizona

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

Overview

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.


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