WASHINGTON, DC – Courts in large areas of the United States no longer impose death sentences or carry out executions, according to a December 16 report released by the Death Penalty Information Center.
“The death penalty is eroding all over the United States, even in places still seeking executions,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the center, of “The death penalty in 2021: report the end of the year “.
“At the state level, states are abolishing the death penalty one by one. So this year Virginia abolished it. It was the first southern state to do so. It was the state with the most executions ever, and it shows that even in previous strongholds of capital punishment, support is waning, ”Dunham said.
“We can also look at it at the regional level. There is a death penalty-free zone from the Canadian border in Maine to the northern border of the Carolinas, ”along the Atlantic coast, he added.
“There is a no-execution zone that stretches the entire length of the US Pacific coast” and includes Hawaii, he added. “And when you cross the Canada-US border, no state (along the border) has imposed the death penalty this year.”
Dunham said: “We are seeing the death penalty disappear completely in some areas, recede in others and it remains concentrated in a few aberrant jurisdictions, mainly in the Deep South, and in those jurisdictions the death penalty is part of the spectrum. a legal culture that is inseparable from the legacy of slavery, lynching and Jim Crow.
There have been many key events this year across the United States, according to the report. Among them were:
– The Biden administration has suspended all federal executions and announced a review of the death penalty policy.
– 2021 marked the seventh year in a row with fewer than 50 new death sentences and fewer than 30 executions.
– Just five counties now account for over 20% of all executions in the United States.
– The publication earlier this year of a separate study finding that one in seven executions involved a defendant who raised allegations the Supreme Court said would demand that their conviction or death sentence be overturned.
The exemptions continued to make the news in 2021. There have been two such cases in Mississippi, both of which involved false forensic testimony. A third case in Texas led the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn a death sentence because the prosecutor who tried him was at the same time on the payroll of the judge who presided over the trial and decided the accused’s appeals.
An appeals court in this third case cited “judicial and prosecution misconduct,” and the attorney is no longer licensed to practice law in Texas.
“Misconduct is the number one cause of wrongful convictions that put people on death row,” Dunham said. “We like to think that the justice system is neutral and fair, and that when innocent people go to jail it is a rare mistake.
“But the numbers show that most wrongful convictions are not mistakes. The main factors are official misconduct and false testimony.
“If this was the product of a mistake, it would completely undermine confidence in our ability to fairly administer the criminal laws,” he added, citing 186 exonerations out of 1,540 executions, or 8.3 executions per exoneration. .
“When you think of the death penalty in terms of any other public policy, this level of fatal error would not be tolerated,” Dunham told Catholic News Service. “If it were a plane crash for 8.3 times it goes where it’s supposed to go, we would revamp or dismantle the aviation system. “
The relatively few prosecutors who still seek the death penalty come from “the culture of the 1990s”, when tough stances on crime such as the three strike and revocation of parole laws and “Good times” for prisoners have settled among state and federal lawmakers, Dunham said.
“There are pockets that public officials always want to lead him aggressively. And their conduct in this regard has become more and more extreme. It’s as if they hadn’t learned that the public no longer reacts to breast shots, ”he added.
He pointed to Arizona, which he said is so “frustrated that they can’t carry out executions, (she) now performs executions with hydrogen cyanide – the same gas the Nazis used.” to kill a million people in the concentration camps ”.
When the state realized its drugs were expiring sooner than expected, leaving Arizona unable to execute prisoners, it asked the courts to “cut the time for judicial review in half.” It is conduct that shows a total disregard for the rule of law and due process, ”said Dunham. “And the Arizona Supreme Court had had enough and said no.”
South Carolina, Dunham noted, had no drugs to carry out executions “and used it as a tool to persuade the Legislature to make the electric chair the default method of execution and ‘adopt a firing squad as a back-up method “.
Prosecutors then sought to execute two prisoners with the electric chair “without giving them the possibility that the law requires to select the firing squad and without even bothering to develop a protocol for carrying out the executions by a firing squad. ‘execution,’ he said.
“If you have that level of pride and incompetence – even states that execute more people than any other jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere – it undermines public confidence that states can trust the sentence.” of death, ”added Dunham.
“While not at all representative of the country’s real long-term trajectory away from capital punishment, these scattered efforts to escalate executions require our continued vigilance,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, in a December 16 statement. statement in response to the report of the Information Center on the Death Penalty.
“Recent advances towards the abolition of the death penalty far outweigh the decline in executions we see in aberrant states and jurisdictions,” she added. “Capital punishment is dying in the United States and Catholics have renewed their encouragement for the work that lies ahead. “