DPIC Releases Year End Report

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its annual report on the status of capital punishment in the U.S. at the end of 2005. The report notes a dramatic drop in death sentences to the lowest level in 30 years. The year showed an increasing reliance on the sentence of life-without-parole as an alternative to the death penalty.

New York's legislature refused to restore the death penalty after its statute was declared unconstitutional, leaving life without parole as the punishment for murder.

Texas became the 37th out of 38 death penalty states to adopt life without parole as a sentencing alternative in capital cases.

In the Supreme Court, further restrictions were placed on thedeath penalty as juveniles were exempted and the Court found race bias in jury selection and ineffectiveness of counsel ignored by lower courts.

Read the report.
Read DPIC's press release about the report.

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NEW RESOURCE: Sentencing Project Examines Relationship Between Incarceration and Crime

Incarceration and Crime: A Complex Relationship, a new report by The Sentencing Project, examines the financial and social costs of incarceration, and evaluates the limited effectiveness it has on crime rates. The report notes that the number of people incarcerated in the United States has risen by more than 500% over the past three decades, up from 330,000 people in 1972 to 2.1 million people today. Though an increase in the number of offenders who are incarcerated has played a modest role in the nation's decreasing crime rate, the report notes that this policy is subject to decreasing effectiveness in the long-term. The Sentencing Project warns that increasing incarceration while ignoring more effective approaches to preventing crime will impose a heavy burden upon the courts, corrections systems, and communities, while providing a marginal impact on crime. The group recommends that policymakers further assess this problem and adopt more balanced crime control policies that provide resources for crime-prevention efforts such as programming, treatment, and community support.

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NEW RESOURCE: Justice Department Releases "Capital Punishment, 2004" Report

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released its latest report on the status of the death penalty in the U.S., Capital Punishment, 2004, on November 13.  According to the report, the nation's death row population, executions, and the number of people given death sentences last year all declined. There were 3,315 people on state and federal death rows at the conclusion of 2004, 63 fewer than in 2003. Last year, 125 people were sentenced to death, the fewest since 1973. Twelve states executed 59 prisoners in 2004, six fewer than in 2003. Those executed had been under a sentence of death for an average of 11 years, which was one month longer than the period for inmates executed in 2003. Of those under a sentence of death in 2004, 56% were white, 42% were black, and 13% were Hispanic ("Hispanic" is counted as an ethnicity, rather than a race). (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Capital Punishment, 2004, November 13, 2005).  Read the report Capital Punishment, 2004. See also DPIC's 2004 Year End Report

This year, the nation will likely carry out the 1,000th execution since capital punishment was reinstated. For analysis and information about this upcoming event, read DPIC's Press Release.

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New York Times Series Examines Life Sentences

A new study by a team of researchers at the New York Times looks at the expanding use of life sentences in the American criminal justice system.  The study, headed by Times reporter Adam Liptak, found that about 132,000 of the nation's prisoners, or almost 10%, are serving life sentences.  Of those, 28% have life sentences with no chance of parole. This is a marked increase from a 1993 Times study that found 20% of all lifers had no chance of parole. Liptak also reported that about 9,700 people are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. Of these juvenile offenders, more than 20% have no chance of parole. The total number of prisoners serving life sentences has nearly doubled in the last decade and is outpacing the overall growth in the nation's prison population. Of those sentenced to life terms between 1988 and 2001, about one-third are serving time for crimes other than murder, including burglary and drug crimes.

(New York Times, October 2-3, 2005).  See Life Without Parole and Sentencing.

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Arbitrariness: Prevalence of Plea Bargains in Death Penalty Cases

In its recent study of Ohio's death penalty, the Associated Press found that of the 1,936 capital indictments filed statewide from 1981-2002, about 50% ended in plea bargains. Of those cases, 131 people who pleaded guilty in exchange for escaping the death penalty were charged with killing multiple victims. By contrast, 196 of the 274 people who were sentenced to death row during the same 21-year time span were convicted of killing a single victim. The AP's Ohio findings were similar to figures from other states and the federal government. In New York, plea bargains were offered in 26 of the 54 cases between 1995 and 2003, and in California between 1977 and 1989, nearly 47% of the 2,866 capital cases were resolved without a trial, almost all because of plea bargains. At the federal level, 33% of death penalty cases have ended in plea bargains since 1998.

(Associated Press, June 4, 2005).  See Arbitrariness. See also the full Ohio AP Study series:
Andrew Welsh-Huggins, "Death Penalty Unequal," Associated Press, May 7, 2005. 
Kate Roberts, "Capital Cases Hard for Smaller Counties," Associated Press, May 8, 2005 
John Seewer, "Two Killers; One Spared," Associated Press, May 9, 2005.

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Death Sentences Decline in 2004



Death Sentences by State:

  2004 2003 1994
U.S. Total 125 144 304
Alabama 8 6 24
Arizona 7 9 10
Arkansas 2 0 8
California 11 19 22
Colorado 0 1 0
Connecticut 1 0 0
Delaware 2 2 0
Florida 8 11 39
Georgia 4 1 6
Idaho 0 1 0
Illinois 3 2 11
Indiana 0 1 2
Kansas 1 1 0
Kentucky 1 0 4
Louisiana 7 1 6
Maryland 1 0 0
Mississippi 2 3 5
Missouri 3 3 9
Montana 0 0 0
Nebraska 1 0 1
Nevada 1 4 8
N. Hampshire 0 0 0
New Jersey 1 0 3
New Mexico 0 0 1
New York 0 1 0
N. Carolina 3 6 27
Ohio 5 7 13
Oklahoma 6 9 12
Oregon 2 2 6
Pennsylvania 4 6 21
S. Carolina 3 5 7
S. Dakota 0 0 0
Tennessee 5 6 4
Texas 23 29 43
Utah 0 0 0
Virginia 2 6 10
Washington 0 0 2
Wyoming 1 0 0
Federal 7 2 0

Sources: 2004 - NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
2003-1977 - Bureau of Justice Statistics (note: BJS revised the total for 1994 to 314 sentences).
See also DPIC's Sentencing Page and DPIC's Press Release on latest numbers.

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