Thursday, December 18, 2008


Capital Blog - Only one state outside the south carried out an execution in 2008, and almost half of all executions were in a single state–Texas. Executions dropped to a 14-year low of 37 in 2008, a 12% drop from 2007 according to the Death Penalty Information Center's year end report. DPIC estimates that the number of people sentenced to death in 2008 will be 111, the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Death sentences have dropped by over 40% in all four geographical regions of the country since the 1990s. . .

"Courts, legislatures and the public are increasingly skeptical about the death penalty, whether those concerns are based on innocence, inadequate legal representation, costs, or a general feeling that the system isn't fair or accurate," said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of DPIC.

As states and the federal government struggled in a recession economy, the death penalty was being examined more closely because of its high costs. A report from the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice found that the death penalty was costing the state $138 million per year, and yet the report called the system "dysfunctional" and "close to collapse." A similar commission in Maryland recommended the abolition of the death penalty, in part because of the high costs of the punishment. There was testimony before the Maryland commission that each of the state's five executions had cost about $37 million when all costs of the death penalty system were included.

In Utah and New Mexico, state supreme court rulings held that the death penalty cannot be pursued unless the legislature provides adequate funding for representation of indigent defendants. But states have little extra money to spend on a program that has such sparse and unpredictable results.

Additional highlights from the report:

The number of executions in 2008 was 37, a 62% decline from the high point of 98 executions in 1999.

Ohio was the only state outside the south to carry out an execution this year.

The federal government is an exception to this trend, with death sentences increasing in that jurisdiction. The average annual number of federal death sentences increased 50% percent in a comparable period.

Four individuals were exonerated from death row in 2008, bringing the total number of exonerations to 130 since 1973.

Perhaps the most pointed criticism of the death penalty came from Supreme Court Justices in capital cases. Justice Stevens called the death penalty "the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes." Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in Kennedy v. Louisiana, warned: "When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint."


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