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Capital punishment in the United States

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Executions since 1976, by State
State Executions
since 1976

(as of July 2, 2004)[1]
Inmates on Death Row
(as of October 1, 2003)[1]
Texas 323 451
Virginia 92 27
Oklahoma 74 105
Missouri 61 67
Florida 59 381
Georgia 36 116
South Carolina 32 74
North Carolina 31 207
Alabama 28 194
Louisiana 27 92
Arkansas 26 40
Arizona 22 126
Delaware 13 21
Ohio 13 209
Illinois 12 8
Indiana 11 39
California 10 632
Nevada 10 89
Mississippi 6 69
Utah 6 11
Maryland 4 14
Washington 4 11
Pennsylvania 3 241
U.S. Federal Gov't 3 26
Nebraska 3 7
Kentucky 2 38
Oregon 2 31
Montana 2 5
Tennessee 1 104
Idaho 1 21
Colorado 1 6
New Mexico 1 2
Wyoming 1 1
New Jersey 0 15
Connecticut 0 7
Kansas 0 7
U.S. Military 0 7
New York 0 6
South Dakota 0 4
New Hampshire 0 0
United States
total
919 3,504
no current death penalty statute: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
Capital punishment is currently practiced in most states and by the federal government in the United States. Thirty-eight of the fifty states allow the death penalty but each state using it has different laws regarding its methods, age limits, and crimes which qualify. Capital punishment is a highly charged issue with many groups and prominent individuals participating in the debate. Arguments for and against it are based on practical, moral and emotional grounds.

Between 1973 and 2002, 7254 death sentences were issued. These had led to 820 executions, 3557 prisoners on death row—all for murder, 268 who died while incarcerated of natural causes, suicide or murder, 176 whose sentences were commuted by governors or state pardon boards, 2403 who were released, retried or resentenced by the courts.[1] There were 65 executions in 2003.

Most notably, 67% of capital convictions are eventually overturned, mainly on procedural grounds although some were exonerated.class="external">[1. Seven percent of those whose sentences were overturned between 1973 and 1995 have been found innocent. Ten percent were retried and resentenced to death.[1]

Table of contents
1 History
2 Crimes subject to death penalty
3 Methods
4 Age limits
5 Distribution of sentences
6 Suicide on death row
7 Controversy over use of death penalty
8 Related articles
9 External links
10 Bibliography

History

The most comprehensive source (the Espy file) lists fewer than 15,000 people executed in United States or its predecessors between 1608 and 1991.[1] China executed more than this number just in the 1990s. 4661 executions occurred in the U.S. in the period 1930–2002 with about 2/3 of the executions occurring in the first twenty years.[1] Additionally the U.S. Army executed 160 soldiers between 1930 and 1961. The last U.S. Navy execution was in 1849.

Capital punishment was suspended in the USA between 1967 and 1976 as a result of several decisions of the United States Supreme Court, primarily the case of Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)*. In this case, the court found the application of the death penalty to be unconstitutional, on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution.

In Furman, the United States Supreme Court found Georgia's "unitary trial" procedure, in which the jury was asked to return a verdict of guilt or innocence and, simultaneously, determine whether the defendant would be punished by death or life imprisonment—a concept further clarified in the Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976)* and Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325 (1976), 431 U.S. 633 (1977)*, which explicity forbade any state from punishing a specific form of murder (such as that of a police officer) with a mandatory death penalty. The 1977 Coker v. Georgia ruling barred the death penalty for rape of a 16 year old married female, and, by implication, for any offense other than murder.

In 1976, contemporaneously with Woodson and Roberts, the Court decided Gregg v. Georgia, and upheld a procedure in which the trial of capital crimes was bifurcated into guilt-innocence and sentencing phases. Since 1976, 885 people have been executed, mainly by the states. Texas has accounted for over a third of modern executions (319 as of February 2004); the federal government has executed only 3 people in the last 27 years.

Crimes subject to death penalty

Crimes subject to the death penalty vary by jurisdiction. All jurisdictions which use capital punishment have murder as a crime which is subject to capital punishment although many jurisdiction require additional aggravating circumstances. Treason is a capital offense in several jurisdictions. Other capital crimes include: Aggravated kidnapping in Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky and South Carolina; train wrecking and perjury which leads to someone being executed in California; aircraft hijacking in Georgia and Mississippi; aggravated rape of victim under age 12 in Louisiana; capital sexual battery in Florida; and capital narcotics conspiracy in Florida and New Jersey. Federal death penalty crimes are various degrees and types of murder as well as treason, espionage, large scale drug trafficking, and attempting to kill any officer, juror, or witness in cases involving a Continuing Criminal Enterprise. There are 15 crimes subject to the death penalty under U.S. military law; however, many of them, such as desertion, are only applicable in times of war.

In practice, however, no one has been executed for a crime other than murder or conspiracy to murder since 1964. All death row inmates in 2002 were convicted of murder.

Methods

Various methods have been used in the history of the American colonies and the United States but only five methods are currently used. Historically, burning, pressing, gibbeting or hanging in chains, breaking on wheel and bludgeoning were used for a small number of executions while hanging was the most common method. Currently lethal injection is the method used or allowed in 37 of the 38 states which allow the death penalty and by the federal government. Nebraska requires electrocution. Other states also allow electrocution, gas chambers, hanging and the firing squad.

During 1976–2003, 718 of 885 executions have been by lethal injection, 151 by electrocution, 11 by gas chamber, 3 by hanging, and 2 by firing squad.

Regardless of the method, an hour or two before the execution the condemned person has a last meal and religious services.

Age limits

Only seven countries practice the death penalty for juveniles – that is, criminals aged under 18 at the time of their crime. Nearly all actual executions for juvenile crime take place in the USA, although, due to the slow process of appeals, no one has been under age 19 at time of execution since at least 1964. [1] [1] The last juvenile execution may have been 17-year-old Leonard Shockey executed on April 10, 1959. In the United States and ancestor bodies politic since 1642, an estimated 364 juvenile offenders have been put to death by states and the federal government. Since 1988, the death penalty cannot be applied to criminals under age 16 and higher ages are legislated in many states.

Since 1976, 22 people have been executed for crimes committed as juveniles. These executions occurred in only seven states. As of 2003, 17 of the 38 states that allow capital punishment and the federal government do not allow it for juveniles, 5 states require the criminal to be at least 17 at the time of the crime, and 16 states have the federally required age of 16 as a minimum.

Distribution of sentences

The death penalty is rarely used in the U.S. with on average in recent years, one execution for about every 700 murders committed or 1 execution for about every 325 murder convictions.

It is noted that the death penalty is sought and applied more often in some jurisdictions, not only between states but within states. A 2004 Cornell University study showed that while 2.5% of murderers convicted nationwide were sentenced to the death penalty, in Nevada 6% were given the death penalty. Texas gave only 2% of murderers the death sentence, less than the national average. Texas however executed 40% of those sentenced which was about 4 times higher than the national average. California had executed only 1% of those sentenced.

Only 1.4% percent of those executed since 1976 have been women.

Critics note that African Americans make up 42% of death row inmates while making up only 12% of the general population. (They have made up 34% of those actually executed since 1976.) [1] Others note that this is lower than the 50% of the total prison population which is African American and that whites are twice as likely as African Americans to receive the death penalty and are executed sooner after sentencing. [1]

Suicide on death row

The suicide rate of death row inmates was found by Lester Tartaro to be 113 per 100,000 for the period 1976–1999. This is about ten times the rate of suicide as in the United States as a whole and about six times the rate of suicide in the general U.S. prison population.

Controversy over use of death penalty

Various groups oppose or support the use of capital punishment. Groups like Amnesty International and the Roman Catholic Church oppose capital punishment on moral grounds while the Innocence Project work to free prisoners including death row inmates based on newly available DNA tests. Other groups such as the Southern Baptists, law enforcement and some victims rights groups support capital punishment. Opinion polls consistently show a majority of the public support the death penalty.

Religious groups are widely split on the issue of capital punishment [1] with in general more conservative groups more likely to support it and more liberal groups likely to oppose it.

Debate over the death penalty centers around four issues: whether it is morally correct to kill, whether the death penalty serves as a deterrent, whether the penalty is being applied fairly across racial, social and economic classes and whether the irrevocability of the penalty is justified considering possible new evidence or future revelations of improper conduct by the state. It is also claimed that the financial costs of a complete death penalty case exceed the total costs of a lifetime of incarceration. Between 1976 and 2003, less than 2 percent of death row prisoners were exonerated while others had their sentences reduced for other reasons. This amounted to 112 prisoners released.

"Since the death penalty was reinstated in Illinois in 1977, 12 men have been executed. During that same period, 13 innocent men were freed from death row." (52%) [1] This prompted the governor of Illinois to commute all death penalties in his state at the time.

Related articles

External links

Bibliography