Death Sentences Decline in California

The number of people sentenced to death each year in California has declined by nearly 40% since the 1990s.  According to the California Department of Corrections, on average, the state sent 35 people to death row each year during the 1990s. Since 2000, that number has declined to an average of 21 annually.  California has the largest death row in the country.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George attributed some of the decline to more selective charging by district attorneys and to the fact that juries may be "exercising some discretion about imposing the death penalty."  George Williamson, co-chair of the Capital Case Litigation Committee, agreed that a shift in juror attitudes has contributed to the steep decline in death sentences. "Jury attitudes have helped drive (the sentencing) number down. When we (pick juries), it's very clear that the number of people who have problems with the death penlaty has increased pretty significantly than what we saw in the 1980s and 1990s," Williamson said. (Sacramento Bee, February 18, 2006). 

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RESOURCES: Death Row USA Winter 2006 Report Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row USA shows an 8% decline in the country's death row population during the past 5 years, down from 3,652 in 2000 to 3,373 at the end of 2005. According to the report, California continues to have the nation's largest death row population (649), followed by Texas (409), Florida (388), Pennsylvania (231), and Ohio (196).

Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 45% white, 42% black, and 10% latino/latina. Of states with more than 10 people on death row, Texas (70%) and Pennsylvania (69%) continue to have the largest percentage of minorites on death row. Eighty percent of the victims in the crimes that resulted in executions were white.

Death Row USA is released quarterly by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of the most recent legal developments related to capital punishment. These death row statistics may differ slightly from those compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics because of a difference in methodologies.

See Death Row USA, January 1, 2006. See also DPIC's Death Row.


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NEW RESOURCE: Report Examines Three Decades of Georgia Death Penalty Cases

The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council has published an analysis of death penalty cases in the state during the past 30 years.  The report was written by Michael Mears, Director of the Council.  The review examines the modern history of Georgia's death penalty, and provides data sorted in a number of ways, including by county, circuit, and defendant. It also provides the following summary of the dispositions of Georgia's death penalty cases:

July 1973 - July 2003

Death Sentence
Lesser Included Offense
Life Sentence with the Possibility of Parole
Life Sentence without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP)
Dead Docket
Pending Cases
Note: These figures are with respect to initial trials and do NOT reflect changes in dispositions resulting from retrials.

Data for this project was collected by the Multi-County Public Defender Office, which was created in 1992 by the Georgia General Assembly and the Georgia Supreme Court. The Multi-County Public Defender Office became the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender on January 1, 2005. (M. Mears, "Thirty Years Analysis of Death Penalty Cases in Georgia," (2005)).  See Resources and Sentencing.

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