European Commission Announces Tight Controls on Exportation of Lethal Injection Drugs

On December 20, the European Commission announced tough new restrictions on the export of drugs that could be used for executions in the United States. The EC added pentobarbital and sodium thiopental - two drugs on which almost all American executions currently depend - to its list of restricted products that are tightly controlled on the grounds that they may be used for cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment. "The decision today contributes to the wider EU efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide," said the Commission's vice-president, Catherine Ashton.  The United Kingdom's Business Secretary, Vince Cable, welcomed the new regulations, saying, "We have led the way by introducing national controls on the export to the United States of certain drugs, which could be used for the purpose of lethal injection. However we have always stated our clear preference for action at EU level and I am pleased that, following our initiative, these steps are now being taken." Last year, the sole manufacturer of sodium thiopental, Hospira, Inc., announced it would no longer produce the drug.  In 2011, Lundbeck, Inc., the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, made efforts to block the sale of its product to any penal institution in the United States. All U.S. executions in 2011 were conducted by lethal injection.

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California Court Rejects New Lethal Injection Procedures

On December 16, Marin County Superior Court Judge Faye D’Opal rejected California’s new lethal injection protocols because corrections officials failed to consider a one-drug execution method now in practice in other states. Judge D’Opal also criticized the state for ignoring requirements of the law regarding the revision of official procedures. A federal court has also imposed a stay of executions while it is reviewing the state’s 3-drug lethal injection procedures. In 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel halted all executions because of concerns that executions in California could result in excessive and unnecessary pain.  No executions have occurred since then.  Natasha Minsker, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said, “The time has come to replace the death penalty with life in prison with no chance of parole. Any attempt to devise new lethal injection rules will take an enormous amount of public employee time and cost hundreds of millions of dollars." A study published earlier this year by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell estimated that taxpayers have spent $4 billion to carry out the state’s 13 executions since 1978 and at least $184 million a year to maintain California’s capital punishment system.

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DPIC's Year End Report: Death Sentences Plunge to Historic Lows

On December 15, the Death Penalty Information Center released its latest report, The Death Penalty in 2011: Year End Report,” on statistics and trends in capital punishment in the past year.  The report noted that new death sentences dropped to 78 in 2011, marking the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 that the country has produced less than 100 death sentences in a year.  It represents a 75% decline since 1996, when there were 315 new death sentences.  California, which has the country's largest death row, saw its death sentences drop by more than half this year - 10 compared with 29 in 2010.  Only 13 states carried out executions in 2011, 74% of which were in the South.  Only 8 states carried out more than one execution.  Texas led the country with 13 executions, but that number represents a 46% decrease from 2009, when there were 24 executions.  “This year, the use of the death penalty continued to decline by almost every measure," said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the report’s author.  "Executions, death sentences, public support, the number of states with the death penalty all dropped from previous years.  Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011.”

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STUDIES: Virginia Leads the Country in Death Sentences Resulting in Executions

According to a recent study by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia executes the highest proportion of people sentenced to death of any state in the country. Of the 149 death sentences handed down through 2010, 108 have resulted in an execution, a rate of about 72 percent.  Virginia is second to Texas in the total number of executions carried out since 1976, but Texas has executed less than half of those sentenced to death.  In many states, less than 1 in 10 death sentences have resulted in an execution.  Inmates in Virginia also spend the shortest time on death row prior to execution--on average, just 7.1 years--compared to a national average of just over 14 years for those executed in 2009.  From the mid-1970s to 1995, just 18% of Virginia death cases were reversed by appeals courts. Nationally, 68% of death cases were reversed in the same time period.  According to Richard J. Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, "almost from the beginning, Virginia has basically tried to expedite the process of state post-conviction review and reduce the kinds of claims that can be raised in state courts." As a result, most of the post-conviction review occurs in federal court, particularly the 4th Circuit, which Bonnie described as "reluctant to set aside death sentences." 

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Oregon Governor Declares Moratorium on All Executions

In a statement released on Nov. 22, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon announced a halt to all executions in the state.  "I am convinced we can find a better solution that keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values," he wrote. "I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor."  His action halts the upcoming execution of Gary Haugen, an inmate who waived his appeals and was scheduled to die on December 6. The governor further stated he acted, "Both because of my own deep personal convictions about capital punishment and also because in practice, Oregon has an expensive and unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice."

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NEW RESOURCES: DPIC Offers Analysis of Executions by County

The Death Penalty Information Center is pleased to offer a new page illustrating the geography of the death penalty--Executions by County.  This page shows the top 15 counties in the U.S. measured by the number of executions since 1976 that emanated from these counties.  As revealed on the map, a small number of counties are responsible for a disproportionate number of executions. (Click on the map at left to enlarge.)  The information contrasts with the counties that have had the most murders, which is also provided.

The top 15 counties accounted for 32% of the executions (402) in the U.S. since 1976, even though they represent less than 1% of the total number of counties in the country.  Counties in Texas accounted for 9 out of the top 15 jurisdictions by executions since 1976.  The page also lists the top counties by execution outside of Texas.  DPIC's newly revised Execution Database enables you to sort executions by county and by state for further analysis.

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U.S. Supreme Court Halts Execution For Third Time in a Year

Desert Storm veteran Cleve Foster (pictured), who faced execution in Texas for the third time this year for a murder nearly a decade ago, was granted another stay by the U.S. Supreme Court on September 20.  The Supreme Court stopped Foster's execution twice before in 2011.  In January, six hours before his scheduled execution, the Justices granted a reprieve to allow them more time to consider his appeal.  In April, the Court again halted his execution when his lawyers sought a rehearing, claiming that Foster was innocent and had ineffective legal assistance at his trial and during the early stages of his appeal. They later lifted the stay.  Foster has always maintained that his friend was responsible for the murder. The friend also received the death penalty for the crime but died of cancer before he was executed.  Duane Buck, who was scheduled to be executed in Texas on Sept. 15, received a reprieve similar to Foster's from the Supreme Court.  On September 21, Lawrence Brewer is facing execution in Texas for dragging a man to death in Jasper more than 13 years ago.  Some of the victim's family members oppose the execution.  Also on Sept. 21, Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed at 7 pm EDT in Georgia.

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NEW RESOURCES: States Ranked by Executions Per Death Sentence

DPIC has updated its Executions Per Death Death Sentence page to reflect data through 2010.  This page lists states in order of the percentage of death sentences resulting in an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  If every death sentence resulted in an execution, the state would be at 100%, or a rate of 1.00.  Using this ratio of executions per death sentence, the first five states are Virginia (.725), Texas (.498), Utah (.368), Missouri (.347), and Delaware (.311).  Of those states that have carried out at least one execution, the five states with the lowest rate of execution are Pennsylvania (.008), California (.015), Idaho (.025), Oregon (.028), and Tennessee (.035).  Four states with the death penalty during this time period had no executions: Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York.  The latter two have abandoned the death penalty.  Nationally, about 15% of death sentences have resulted in an execution (a rate of .150).  Another measure of state execution rates is executions per capita (population).  Under this standard, Oklahoma and Texas are the leading states.

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UPCOMING EXECUTION: Florida Case Raises Numerous Legal Concerns

Florida has set an execution date of Septmeber 6 for Manuel Valle (pictured), a foreign national from Cuba who was deprived of his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  The European Union's ambassador to the U.S. has asked Florida to halt the execution, and Florida's Catholic Bishops have also requested clemency for Valle, saying, "Killing someone because they killed diminishes respect for life and promotes a culture of violence and vengeance."  The state plans to introduce the anesthetic pentobarbital for this execution, despite the fact that the manufacturer of the drug, Lundbeck, Inc., has asked Florida to refrain from such use, saying it "contradicts everything we are in business to do." Valle has been on death row for about 33 years, raising other questions about cruel and unusual punishment in his case.  In another case, a federal judge has found Florida's statute to be unconstitutional.  If that ruling is upheld on appeal, it could affect Valle's case as well, but only if he is still alive. UPDATE: Valle's execution has been stayed at least until Sept. 8 by a federal court to consider whether he was denied a clemency hearing. UPDATE: Stay of execution lifted; may proceed on Sept. 8.

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LETHAL INJECTIONS: Ohio and Other States Face New Hurdles with Their Execution Process

Ohio is the only state currently using a single dose of the drug pentobarbital to execute inmates, while other states are using pentobarbital as part of a three-drug protocol. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), the state's supply of the drug will last only until February. Lundbeck, Inc., the manufacturer of pentobarbital, has said they are putting systems in place to block the use of their product in executions. Ohio recently announced changes to its execution protocol that would allow it to use a backup method of execution if the state cannot obtain pentobarbital.  However, the new method has never been used, and involves injecting two drugs directly into an inmate's muscles, bypassing the veins. Under that method, the sedative midazolam would be followed by the painkiller hydromorphone.  There is a possibility of vomiting and convulsions with this protocol.  As with previous changes to execution procedures, the new method could be challenged in court. Tim Young, a State Public Defender, described the new method as, "Untested, anywhere, ever." Because of its limited shelf-life and restrictions by the manufacturer, other states are likey to run out of pentobarbital by 2013.  States might turn to the sedative propofol, but it is also facing shortages, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

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