Against a backdrop of high-profile innocence cases and the U.S. Supreme Court’s seeming indifference to them, the 2023 Gallup poll found that more Americans now believe that the death penalty is administered unfairly than fairly.  Use of the death penalty remained geographically isolated, with only five states carrying out executions and only seven imposing death sentences. For the ninth consecutive year, fewer than 30 people were executed and fewer than 50 were sentenced to death. These findings headline DPIC’s 2023 Year End Report, released on December 1.

“The data show that most Americans no longer believe the death penalty can be imposed fairly,” said Robin M. Maher, DPIC’s executive director. “That important change can also be seen in the unprecedented show of support for death-sentenced prisoners from conservative lawmakers and elected officials this year, some of whom now oppose use of the death penalty in their state.” 

The number of executions increased slightly from 18 in 2022 to 24 in 2023, a change that can be attributed to Florida’s return to executions the same year its governor launched a presidential campaign. Florida’s six executions were the state’s highest number since 2014, and it imposed five new death sentences, the highest number of any state this year. Most of the prisoners who were executed in 2023 would likely not have been sentenced to death if tried today due to significant changes in the law, prosecutorial decision-making, and public attitudes over the past few decades. Today, they would have powerful arguments for life sentences and decisions from juries who better understand the effects of mental illness, developmental impairments, and severe trauma. 79% of the people executed this year had at least one of the following impairments: serious mental illness; brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the range considered intellectually disabled; and/or chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect and/or abuse. One-third or eight of the people executed had all three. At least three prisoners were under the age of 20 at the time of their crimes. 


The Death Penalty in 2023: Year End Report, DPIC, December 1, 2023. Read DPIC’s press release on the report.