Facts and figures on the death penalty in the USA
Executions and death sentences
Since the resumption of the death penalty in 1976, 1568 people have been executed in the U.S. In 2020, 17 executions were carried out; in 2021, there have been 11, 2022 had 18 executions, 2023 has 10 executions so far. After peaking at 98 executions in 1999, the number of death sentences carried out declined significantly.
The highest number of death sentences in the U.S., over 300 per year, was in the mid-1990s; since the beginning of the new millennium, the number of death sentences imposed each year has also declined significantly.
For more information on executions, see the Death Penalty Information Center ‘s databases – Overview of Executions in the United States.
A poll conducted regularly by the Gallup Institute shows that the above figures reflect public opinion: While approval of the death penalty in the U.S. was at a high of 80% in the mid-1990s, it was only 56% in the most recent recent polls.
When given the choice between the death penalty and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, 60% of respondents most recently opted for imprisonment, and only 36% remained in favor of the death penalty.
Development in the states
The fact that the death penalty is on the decline in the United States overall is also evidenced by the fact that 11 U.S. states have abandoned it in the new millennium: New York (2004), New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012), Maryland (2013), Delaware (2016), Washington (2018), New Hampshire (2019), Colorado (2020), Virginia (2021).
Currently, 27 U.S. states still have the death penalty on their statute books; 23 states abolished it in the 19th, 20th, or 21st centuries. Individual steps backward will not change this trend – such as the Trump administration’s resumption of executions at the federal level after 17 years in 2020.
For more information on states, see the Death Penalty Information Center ‘s databases – in the States Overview of U.S. States.
Lethal injection has become the accepted method of execution throughout the United States. Classically, the three agents used were sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. Today, many states use pentobarbital as the sole agent. Other methods formerly used in the USA (electric chair, gas chamber, hanging, shooting) are now used only in exceptional cases.
However, for about a decade now, U.S. states have had more and more problems obtaining the necessary chemicals or drugs for lethal injection. Pharmaceutical companies mostly refuse to sell their products for the purpose of killing rather than curing.
Because of the shortage regarding drugs, several states have tried new chemicals – some of which have led to significant problems with executions. In January 2014, for example, Ohio made headlines because an execution using midazolam and hydromorphone lasted an unusually long time, about 25 minutes, with the condemned man gasping for breath for minutes. Six months later, Arizona used the same two drugs with the result that the executed man was pronounced dead only after two hours.
In addition, some states have statutorily specified alternative methods in the event that lethal injection cannot be administered, he said. For example, Tennessee alternatively allows the electric chair again and Utah the firing squad and New Hampshire hanging, and Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama provide for execution by nitrogen as an entirely new alternative method.
For more information on execution methods in the U.S. and lethal injection provisions in each state, visit the Death Penalty Information Center ‘s databases – the Execution Methods Overview and the Lethal Injection State Overview.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center