Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Geography of the Death Penalty in the United States


Alaska 1957–Abolished the death penalty in process of becoming a state.  Only 12 people executed during AK’s time as a territory.

Connecticut 2012 Voted to abolish in 2009, but vetoed by governor.

Hawai’i 1957–Abolished the death penalty in process of becoming a state.

Illinois 2011–De facto moratorium since mid-1990s.

Iowa 1965

Maine 1887

Massachusetts 1984

Michigan 1846–Michigan never had the death penalty, but formally outlawed it in the process of becoming a state.

Minnesota 1911

New Jersey 2007 –New Jersey Supreme Court struck down its death penalty statute as violating the state constitution. Legislators debated rewriting the statute, but, instead, formally abolished the death penalty and commuted the death row inmates to life without parole sentences.

New Mexico 2009–In 2009 the NM legislature voted to abolish the death penalty for all future crimes, but left unchanged the status of the two inmates on death row. Theoretically, they could still be executed.  Attempts to reinstate the death penalty have gone nowhere.

New York 2007–In 2004, the NY Court of Appeals ruled that part of NY’s death penalty was a violation of the state constitution. In 2007, they ruled that this applied to all remaining inmates on NY’s death row.  New York formally abolished the death penalty that year.

North Dakota 1973

Rhode Island 1984

Vermont 1964

West Virginia 1965

Wisconsin 1853

Also–District of Columbia 1981





California  Repeal by ballot measure likely in November 2012.

Colorado Legislature came 2 votes short of repeal in 2010. Continued efforts at repeal would probably succeed in CO in near future.









Maryland  Repeal efforts have led to stricter standards and momentum is building for repeal.




Nebraska  Repeal efforts have frequently come close–twice passing the legislature to be vetoed by different governors and several times falling only a few votes short in the legislature.


New Hampshire  Last remaining state with death penalty in New England, NH is ripe for a major repeal effort by abolitionists.

North Carolina  Repeal efforts are growing and very organized. I predict that NC will be the first state of the former Confederacy to abolish the death penalty.



Oregon  Moratorium on executions in place. OR is a prime state for abolitionists to target for repeal.


South Carolina

South Dakota


Texas  Leader in executions–and in death sentences overturned by federal courts.


Virginia  Has passed TX in numbers of death sentences per year and trying to catch up in number of executions!

Washington  Like OR, Washington should be a prime target of abolitionists in the state-by-state repeal process.



U.S. Federal Govt. has the death penalty for several crimes, though it hasn’t executed anyone in decades.

U.S. Military has the death penalty, though it hasn’t used it since the end of the Vietnam War.

Prediction–The pace of abolition will pick up state-by-state as more DNA exonerations make headlines.  IF the U.S. Supreme Court is shifted by Democratic appointments even by 1-2 justices, then when the number of states without the death penalty reaches 25, the Supreme Court will probably strike down the death penalty nationwide. If not, by the time 30 states have abolished the death penalty, we will have a good chance of passing abolition by means of a Constitutional amendment.  My guess is that, in a worst case scenario, the death penalty is abolished in the United States by 2050.

I am assuming that the Catholic Church will continue its campaign against capital punishment, joined by the Historic Peace Churches, mainline Protestants, and an increasing number of younger evangelicals.  Jewish voices, long opponents of the death penalty, will get louder. The racial inequalities of the death penalty will become more and more apparent–as will the economic ones.  The error prone nature of the death penalty will become more and more obvious with DNA releases more common. International pressure will continue to isolate the country and treat the U.S. and its death penalty as a moral pariah.  These factors could speed up that 2050 date–but wars or violent crime waves could slow it.  But the end of this moral outrage against which I have fought since I was 16 is coming.  The high tide of pro-death penalty feeling in the U.S. was in the 1990s and that tide is fast receding.


April 13, 2012 - Posted by | capital punishment, civil rights, ethics

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s