Death Penalty in the USA Continues to Retreat – DPIC Annual Report

The historic abolition of the death penalty in the state of Virginia was the culmination of a year in which support for the death penalty continued to decline, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2021 Year-End Report.

Executions, death sentences, and public support for the death penalty were at or near historic lows in 2021, the report said, while the executions and new death sentences that took place exposed deep flaws in the administration of the nation’s death penalty system.

Virginia, which had carried out more executions since colonial times than any other state in the country, was the first Southern state to abolish the practice and the 11th state this millennium to do so.

Only five states and the federal government carried out death sentences in 2021, and the 11 executions that occurred marked the lowest number since 1988. The 18 death sentences handed down through Dec. 16 matched the record low set in 2020.

Just three states-Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama-accounted for the majority of executions and new death sentences in 2021, and just five counties-Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, and Bexar in Texas, and Oklahoma County in Oklahoma-accounted for 20% of all executions in the United States over the past fifty years.

The few executions that have been carried out were done in apparent disregard of due process, judicial review of execution methods, or potentially substantiated claims of mental retardation, inability to execute, or innocence.

Ten of the eleven executed individuals had one or more serious mental impairments (severe mental illness, brain damage or IQ in the range of mental retardation, and/or chronic trauma).

One execution was botched, another was carried out without the presence of media witnesses, and three individuals who met the clinical definition of mental retardation and thus were constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty were executed without a diagnostically appropriate judicial review of their claims.

More than one-quarter (27.8%) of new death sentences imposed this year were imposed either by juries without unanimity or by judges after defendants waived their right to a jury trial, or in states that denied defendants the right to a jury trial.

In 2021, two more innocent people were released from death row. A DPIC study uncovered 11 more exonerations, bringing the total number of death row releases to 186. Thus, for every eight executions, there is one person released from death row as innocent.

Sources and more information:

The Death Penalty in 2021: Year End Report
America’s death penalty divide: why capital punishment is getting better, and worse