Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

U. S. States and the Death Penalty

Yes, Gentle Readers, I am following the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and throughout the Middle East VERY closely. But other than my prayers for the protesters, I don’t have anything blog-worthy to say. I always support people’s right to be free and always believe in nonviolence and always pray that toppling dictators will actually lead to liberal democracy rather than anarchy, failed states, new dictators, or theocracies.  One never knows.  Self-determination is messy. So, I offer my prayers and I wait to see, and I hope my govt. and others will not stand with the dictators but with the people. But I don’t fool myself into thinking that I have any insight into this that one cannot find better elsewhere.  So, I will resist the urge to pontificate and simply continue to pray.

But the death penalty is a moral and legal issue that I have followed since my teens. I’ve written on it many times.  So, I want to write a series of posts on the moral and legal dimensions of the death penalty. I will be making a case for abolition. Now, I am a pacifist and, as such, believe that lethal violence or deadly force is always and everywhere wrong, whether done by private individuals or the state.  But I won’t be arguing the case on pacifist grounds. If one is pacifist, one already believes the death penalty to be wrong.  So, I will be arguing against the death penalty in terms that should apply to those who believe violence is sometimes justifiable.  I want to argue against the death penalty from several directions over the next month:  Christian theological arguments; arguments from other faiths (since we live in a pluralistic democracy); arguments based on legal justice; arguments based on constitutional and international law; sociological arguments concerning what does and what does not lower violent crime rates; even economic arguments (loathe as I am morally to put a pricetag on human life) and the science that shows that we convict the innocent and have sent the innocent to death row.  Because abolishing the death penalty is considered a “liberal” viewpoint and I am a political liberal (of sorts–a democratic socialist), I want to pay particular attention to conservative arguments against capital punishment, including the testimony of police officers, prison officials, and conservative political and religious leaders. I also want to pay close attention to victims of crime, especially the family members of murder victims.

Before doing any of that, however, I want to spend this first post in the series describing the geographical lay of the land, so to speak, in the U.S.  My next post will map out the other countries which have the death penalty, those which have abolished it, and those which have it on the books, but have not executed anyone in a decade or more.  Getting a sense of “where we are” in the world may help us see where we need to be going.  Since I live in the United States, one of the few industrialized nations with the death penalty, I will start with a state by state analysis here. Note: I indicate the number of women on death row in states with the death penalty, not because I am sexist, but because both historically and currently there is more resistance to executing women than men.  Governors and presidents used to grant clemencies routinely, without it being a sign of being “soft on crime,” but since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 (Gregg v. Georgia) that executions could continue, few governors have been willing to grant clemency for fear of political consequences.

In alphabetical order, these are the states which do not have the death penalty:

  1. Alaska: Had executed only 12 people in it’s history (both as a territory and state) prior to the Supreme Court’s temporary ban on the death penalty in 1972 and did not seek to reinstate the death penalty after the ban was lifted in 1976, even though it is usually considered a conservative state. Only has 3.1 murders per 100,000 people per year.
  2. District of Columbia: (A federal city which has a greater population than Idaho and needs to become a state with full representation in Congress.) Had executed 118 people before 1972 and zero since, never seeking to reinstate the death penalty after 1976. Averages 24 murders per 100,000 people.
  3. Hawai’i:  Had executed 49 people prior to 1972and none after 1976, not seeking to reinstate the death penalty.  Averages 1.7 murders per 100,000 people (which is not the impression one would get watching Hawai’i Five-O).
  4. Iowa: 45 executions before 1972, zero since then, not seeking reinstatement of the death penalty.
  5. Massachussetts: Prior to 1972: 345 executions. After 1976: Zero.  There have been a few attempts to reinstate the death penalty, but they have never garnered much popular support nor made it very far in the state legislature.  2.6 murders per 100,000 people.
  6. Maine:  Prior to 1972: 20 executions. After 1976: Zero.  2 murders per 100,000 people.
  7. Michigan: Prior to 1972: 13 executions. After 1976: Zero.  6.3 murders per 100,000 people.
  8. Minnesota: Prior to 1972: 66 executions. After 1976:  1.4 murders per 100, 000 people.
  9. New Jersey: Prior to 1972: 361. After 1976: Zero.  New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982 but did not execute anyone.  In 2007, the New Jersey legislature abolished the death penalty.  The governor then commuted the sentences of the 8 people on death row.  Despite its reputation as a haven for organized crime, there are only 3.4 murders per 100,000 people in NJ.
  10. New Mexico:  Prior to 1972:  73 executions. After 1976: 1.  New Mexico reinstated the death penalty in 1979, but did seldom sentenced anyone to death and did not execute anyone until the year 2001.  In that time, 4 innocent persons were freed from death row and 5 cases had enough doubts that a series of governors, both Republican and Democratic, granted clemency and commuted the sentences to life. In 2009, the New Mexewico legislature abolished the death penalty and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), signed the bill into law. Because the law was not retroactive, New Mexico still has 2 people on death row, but there is a campaign to urge the governor to commute their sentences.  New Mexico has 8.7 murders per 100,000 people.
  11. New York:  Prior to 1972: 1,130 executions. After 1976: 0.  There was little desire for years in NY to reinstate the death penalty, but the rising crime rate of the 198os and early 1990s, led the legislature to reinstate the death penalty in 1995, although it could not be imposed for accessories to the crime, as in many states.  It was seldom sought and juries seldom imposed it and no one had been executed. In 2004, the New York Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty violated the state constitution and it was struck down. There are 4 murders per 100,000 people in NY.
  12. North Dakota: Prior to 1972:  8 executions. After 1976: 0.  The death penalty was never reinstated after 1976.  Murder rate: 0.5 per 100,000 people.
  13. Rhode Island:  Prior to 1972: 52 executions. After 1976: 0.  The death penalty was never reinstated. There are 2.9 murders per 100,000 people in Rhode Island.
  14. Vermont: Prior to 1972: 26 executions.  After 1976: o.  The death penalty was never reinstated.  There are 1.1 murders per 100,000 people.
  15. Wisconsin:  Prior to 1972: 1 execution. After 1976: 0. The death penalty was never reinstated. There are 2.5 murders per 100,o00 people.
  16. West Virginia:  Prior to 1972: 155 executions. After 1976: 0.  There have been a few attempts to reinstate the death penalty in West Virginia, but they have not gotten very far.  There are 3.3 murders per 100,000 people.

In alphabetical order, here are the states which have the death penalty:

  1. Alabama: Prior to 1972:  708 executions.  After 1976: 50 executions.  The death penalty was reinstated in 1976. There are currently 201 people on death row, including 5 women.  1 clemency was granted since 1976 and 6 innocent people freed from death row.  The first execution after reinstatement was in 1982.  There are 6.9 murders per 100,000 people.
  2. Arkansas: Prior to 1972: 478 executions. After 1976: 27. The death penalty law was reinstated in 1973, but could not go into effect until 1976.  The first post-reinstatement execution was in 1990. There are currently 42 people on death row.  One clemency has been granted and zero innocent people freed from death row.  6.2 murders per 100,000.
  3. Arizona: Prior to 1972: 104 executions. After 1976: 24.  The death penalty was reinstated in 1973 but could not legally take effect until 1976. 135 people currently on death row, including 2 women.  First execution after reinstatement was in 1992.  8 people freed from death row due to innocence.  0 clemencies granted. 5.8 murders per 100,000. 
  4. California: Prior to 1972: 709 executions. After 1976: 13.  The death penalty was reinstated in 1974 but could not legally take effect until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1992.  Current death row population is 607 including 16 women.  3 innocent persons freed from death row; zero clemencies.  5.3 murders per 100,000 people.
  5. Colorado: Prior to 1972:  101 executions. Since 1976: 1 execution.  The death penalty was reinstated in 1975 but could not legally take effect until after 1976.  First (and only) execution since reinstatement: 1997.  Current death row population: 3.  Since abolition, Colorado seems to like the death penalty in theory more than practice, and even in theory support is waning. In 2010, the Colorado legislature fell just 2 votes shy of abolishing the death penalty.  The governor, a devout Catholic who knows his church is against the death penalty, was seriously considering signing the bill if it passed. Murder rate per 100,000 is 3.5.
  6. Connecticut: Prior to 1972: 126 executions. Since 1976: 1 execution. The death penalty was reinstated in 1973, but could not take effect until 1976. Date of first (and only) execution since reinstatement: 1994.  Current death row population: 10. In 2010, the CT state legislature narrowly abolished the death penalty, but the bill was vetoed by the governor and there was nowhere close to the votes to override her veto.  CT legislators say they will try again.  3 murders per 100,000 people.
  7. Delaware: Prior to 1972:  62 executions. After 1976: 14 executions.  Current death row population: 19.  The death penalty was reinstated in 1974, but did not take effect legally until after 1976.  First post-reinstatement execution: 1992.  4.6 murders per 100,000 people.
  8. Florida:  Prior to 1972:  314 executions.  After 1976:  69 executions.  Current death row population:  398, including 2 women.  First execution after reinstatement: 1979.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 23. Number of clemencies: 6.  There is an annual average of 5.5 murders per 100,000 people.
  9. Georgia: Prior to 1972:  950 executions. After 1976: 49 executions.  Current death row population: 106, including 1 woman. Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until after 1976.  First post-reinstatement execution: 1983.  5 innocent persons freed from death row.  7 clemencies granted.  Note: Georgia may be thought to have some kind of special love affair with capital punishment since both the Supreme Court decision which state that state death penalties, as then written, were unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia, 1972) and the decision which allowed states with new (and supposedly fairer/less arbitrary) death penalty statutes to resume executions (Gregg v. Georgia, 1976) were in response to Georgia cases. But it is clear that Georgia has sentenced to death and executed less than several other states.
  10. Idaho:  Prior to 1972: 26 executions. After 1976: 1 execution.  Current death row population: 17, including 1 woman.  Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1994.  1.4 murders per 100,000 people.  1 innocent person freed from death row and 1 clemency granted. Like Colorado, Idaho seems to like the death penalty better in theory than practice.
  11. Illinois:  Prior to 1972: 348 executions. After 1976: 12 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1990.  Current death row population: 15.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 20. Number of clemencies granted 172.  Note: In the late 1990s, a number of journalism students found major errors in Illinois’ death penalty including numerous cases where someone was on death row, but probably innocent.  At the time, 1 more person had been freed from death row than had been executed. Reading the articles and noting the huge error-rate, then governor Ryan (R) in 2000 imposed a moratorium on executions and, just prior to leaving office in 2003, granted clemency to all prisoners on death row. That moratorium has not been lifted. The Illinois legislature first tried to overhaul the death penalty, but this year (2011) the legislature voted to abolish the death penalty. As of my current writing, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has not decided whether to sign or veto the bill to abolish.
  12. Indiana: Prior to 1972: 131 executions. After 1976: 20 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution since reinstatement: 1981.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 2. Clemencies granted: 3.  4.8 murders per 100,000 people.
  13. Kansas: Prior to 1972; 57 executions. After 1976: zero.  Death penalty reinstated in 1994.  Current death row population: 10. Zero people freed from death row and zero clemencies granted.  4.2 murders per population. Note: Kansas only reinstated the death penalty during the 1990s–a decade which saw the largest public support for the death penalty since World War II. It still seems to like it more in theory than in practice since there have been no executions.
  14. Kentucky:  Prior to 1972: 424 executions.  After 1976: 3 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976.  Current death row population, 35 including 1 woman.  1 innocent person freed from death row; 2 clemencies granted.  4.1 murders per 100,000 people.
  15. Louisiana:  Prior to 1972: 632 executions. After 1976:  28 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976.  Current death row population: 85 including 2 women.  First execution after reinstatement: 1983.  8 innocent persons freed from death row and 2 clemencies granted.  11.8 murders per 100,000.  Note: A study this year shows that in Louisiana, one is 97% more likely to receive death as a sentence for murder if the victim is white than if some other race.  This should be mean that LA’s death penalty violates the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment.
  16. Maryland:  Prior to 1972: 309 executions. After 1976: 5 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976.  Death row population: 5.  First execution after reinstatement: 1994.  1 innocent person freed from death row. 2 Clemencies.    7.7 murders per 100,000.  Note: The current governor of MD, Martin O’Malley (D-MD), has continued to push the MD legislature to abolish the death penalty and has imposed a moratorium on executions until the death penalty is abolished. The MD legislature has so far responded by raising the standard of evidence of guilt in capital cases and with other barriers, all of which O’Malley has signed into law, but they have not yet abolished the death penalty.  O’Malley continues to push for abolition.
  17. Missouri: Prior to 1972:  285 executions. After 1976: 67 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1989.  Current population of death row: 53.  3 innocent persons freed from death row.  3 clemencies granted.  6.4 murders per 100,000 people. 
  18. Mississippi:  Prior to 1972:  351 executions.  After 1976: 13 execution.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1983.  Current population of death row:  61 including 3 women.  3 innocent persons freed from death row. Zero clemencies granted.  6.4 persons murdered per 100,000.
  19. Montana:  Prior to 1972:  71 executions.  After 1976: 3 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1995.  Zero innocent persons freed from death row and 1 clemency.  2.9 murders per 100,000 people.
  20. Nebraska:  Prior to 1972:  34.  After 1976:  3.  First execution after reinstatement:  1993.  Current population of death row: 11.  1 innocent person freed from death row and 0 clemencies.  2.2 murders per 100,000 people. In 2009, the Nebraska legislature considered abolishing the death penalty, but the bill died in committee for that session.  There has been an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, but the state is considering its first execution since 1997.
  21. New Hampshire:  Prior to 1972: 24 executions.  After 1976:  0. Death penalty reinstated in 1991.  Zero executions since reinstatement.  Current death row population: 1.  Zero innocent persons freed from death row and zero clemencies.  0.8 persons murdered per 100,000 people.  In 2000, the NH legislature voted narrowly to abolish the death penalty, but Governor Shaheen (D) vetoed it and the legislature failed to override her veto.  In 2009, the House voted again to abolish the death penalty, but the bill died in the Senate when Governor Lynch (D) promised to veto it.  New Hampshire clearly does not like the death penalty, but reinstated it during the ’90s when the rising crime rate made it more popular than at any other time and is now finding it hard to eliminate again.
  22. Nevada:  Prior to 1972:  61.  After 1976:  12.  Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1979.  Current death row population:  77.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row:  1.  Clemencies granted: 1.  5.9 murders per 100,000.
  23. North Carolina:  Prior to 1972:  782 executions. After 1976:  43.  Death penalty reinstated in 1977.  First execution after reinstatement: 1984.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 8.  Number of clemencies: 5.  Current death row population: 167, including 4 women.  6.5 murders per 100,000 people.
  24. Ohio:  Prior to 1972:  438 executions.  After 1976:  40 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976.  In 1978, the U. S. Supreme Court declared that Ohio’s new death penalty statute did not meet the constitutional requirements of  Gregg v. Georgia (1976) and threw it out.  120 death row prisoners, including 4 women had their sentences commuted to life in prison.  Ohio then drafted a death penalty statute that passed constitutional muster which went into effect in 1981.   First execution after reinstatement: 1999.  Current death row population: 168 including 2 women.  Number of innocent persons freed from persons:  5.  Number of clemencies: 12. 
  25. Oklahoma:  Prior to 1972:  132 executions.  After 1976:  96 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement:  1990.  Current death row population:  84, including 1 woman.  10 innocent persons freed from death row; 4 clemencies granted.  6.2 murders per 100,000 people.
  26. Oregon:  Prior to 1972:  122 executions.  After 1976:  2 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1978. First execution after reinstatement: 1996.  Zero innocent persons freed from death row and zero clemencies granted.  2.2 murders per 100,000.
  27. Pennsylvania:  Prior to 1972:  1040 executions.  After 1976:  3 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1995.  Current death row population: 222, including 5 women.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 6. Zero clemencies granted.  5.2 murders per 100,000 people.
  28. South Carolina:  Prior to 1972: 641 executions.  After 1976:  42 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement:  1985.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 2. Clemencies granted: 0.  6.3 murders per 100,000 people.
  29. South Dakota:  Prior to 1972:  15 executions. After 1976: 1 execution.  Death penalty reinstated in 1979.  First execution since reinstatement: 2007.  South Dakota abolished the death penalty (hanging) in 1915, but reinstated it (electric chair) in 1933.   2.6 murders per 100,000 people.  In 2010, South Dakota introduced legislation to abolish the death penalty, but it did not pass.  The abolition of capital punishment is strongly supported by The Association of South Dakota Churches.  The voters of South Dakota seem to like the death penalty more in theory than practice. 
  30. Tennessee:  Prior to 1972:  335 executions.  After 1976:  6 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution since reinstatement:  2000.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row:  2. Number of clemencies granted: 2.  Current death row population: 90, including 2 women.  7.3 murders per 100,000.  In 2007, Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) imposed a three month moratorium on executions while a committee proposed new rules for fairer implementation. But nonetheless, Bredesen felt compelled to commute a sentence from death to life without parole on 11 January 2011 because the crime did not seem to meet TN’s “aggravating circumstances” criteria.
  31. Texas:  Prior to 1972:  755 executions.  After 1976: 465 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1982.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 12. Number of clemencies granted: 2.  Current death row population:  337, including 10 women.  5.4 murders per 100,000 people.  Texas has executed more people since 1976 than any other state, more than twice that of the next highest execution state (Virginia), despite the fact that two states (California and Florida) have larger death row populations.  The death penalty enjoys wide popular support in Texas, despite the fact that, when polled, most Texans reply that they think the state has probably executed innocent people.  Unlike most states, Texas has been more aggressive in executing people since reinstatement than before 1972–and shows no signs of slowing down.
  32. Utah:  Prior to 1972:  43 executions.  After 1976:  7 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution since reinstatement: 1977.  Zero persons freed from death row and zero clemencies granted.  Current death row population: 10.  1.3 murders per 100,000 people.
  33. Virginia:  Prior to 1972:  1,277 executions.  After 1976:  108.  Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement:  1982.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 1. Clemencies granted: 8.  Current death row population:  15, including 2 women.  4.4 murders per 100,000. 
  34. Washington:  Prior to 1972:  105 executions. After 1976:  5 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976.  First execution after reinstatement: 1993.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 1. Clemencies granted: 0.  Current death row population: 9.  2.7 murders per 100,000.  Washington briefly abolished the death penalty in 1913, but reinstated it in 1919.  The Washington voters seem to like the death penalty more in theory than in fact.
  35. Wyoming:  Prior to 1972:  22 executions.  After 1976:  1 execution.  Death penalty reinstated in 1977.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 0. Number of clemencies granted:0.  Current death row poplation: 1.  2.4 murders per 100,000 people. 

In addition to the states, the U.S. government also imposes the death penalty for several crimes and so does the U.S. military.

U.S. Federal Death Penalty:  Prior to 1972: 340 executions. After 1976:  3 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1988.  Expanded in the Omnibus Crime Act of 1994.  First execution since reinstatement:  2001.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 0. Clemencies granted: 1. Current death row population: 59, including 2 women.  5.7 murders per 100,000 people.

U.S. Military Death Penalty:  Prior to 1972:  1,206 executions.  After 1976: 0 executions.  Death penalty reinstated in 1984.  Zero executions since reinstatement.  Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 0; Clemencies granted: 0.  Current death row population: 8.

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    January 30, 2011 - Posted by | blog series, capital punishment, ethics, human rights, justice, U.S. politics, violence

    1 Comment »

    1. This report suggest that the numbersof murders would possibly drop if these states did not have this option. I’m inclined to agree. we must stop the cycle of violence.

      Comment by Anthony Bates | February 25, 2011 | Reply


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