Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Capital punishment in the United States

Capital punishment in the United States

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Capital punishment in the United States'
Start a new discussion about 'Capital punishment in the United States'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Capital punishment in the United States, in practice, applies only for aggravated murder and more rarely for felony murder
Felony Murder and the Death Penalty
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution does not prohibit imposing the death penalty for felony murder. The Supreme Court of the United States has created a two-part test to determine when the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for felony murder. Under Enmund v...

. Capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 was a penalty at common law, for many felonies, and was enforced in all of the American colonies prior to the Declaration of Independence
Declaration of independence
A declaration of independence is an assertion of the independence of an aspiring state or states. Such places are usually declared from part or all of the territory of another nation or failed nation, or are breakaway territories from within the larger state...

. Following the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

 the Anglo-American common law was maintained in the United States, capital punishment with it.

The methods of execution and the crimes subject to the penalty vary by jurisdiction and have varied widely throughout time, though today they are usually done by poisoning
Lethal injection
Lethal injection is the practice of injecting a person with a fatal dose of drugs for the express purpose of causing the immediate death of the subject. The main application for this procedure is capital punishment, but the term may also be applied in a broad sense to euthanasia and suicide...

 the criminal. Thirty-four jurisdictions have banned it by law, others have suspended its use, and others are trying to expand its applicability. There were 37 executions in the United States in 2008, the lowest number since 1994 (largely due to lethal injection
Lethal injection
Lethal injection is the practice of injecting a person with a fatal dose of drugs for the express purpose of causing the immediate death of the subject. The main application for this procedure is capital punishment, but the term may also be applied in a broad sense to euthanasia and suicide...

 litigation revolving around a now resolved
Baze v. Rees
Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 , was a United States Supreme Court case. The court agreed to hear the appeal of two men, Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling, who were sentenced to death in Kentucky. The men argue that executing them by lethal injection would violate the 8th Amendment prohibition of cruel and...

 constitutional question). There were 46 executions in 2010, 44 by lethal injection, one by electric chair
Electric chair
Execution by electrocution, usually performed using an electric chair, is an execution method originating in the United States in which the condemned person is strapped to a specially built wooden chair and electrocuted through electrodes placed on the body...

 (in Virginia), and one by firing squad
Ronnie Lee Gardner
Ronnie Lee Gardner was an American criminal who received the death penalty for murder in 1985, and was executed by firing squad by the state of Utah in 2010...

 (in Utah).

Capital punishment has often been a contentious social issue in the United States; while historically, a large majority of the American public has favored it in cases of murder, the extent of this support has varied over time, and there has long been strong opposition from some sectors of the population. While public support today is lower than it was in the 1980s and '90s (in 1994 it reached an all-time high of 80%), it has been largely static over the past decade. A 2011 Gallup
The Gallup Organization
The Gallup Organization, is primarily a research-based performance-management consulting company. Some of Gallup's key practice areas are - Employee Engagement, Customer Engagement and Well-Being. Gallup has over 40 offices in 27 countries. World headquarters are in Washington, D.C. Operational...

 poll showed 61% of Americans favored it in cases of murder while 35% opposed it, the lowest level of support recorded by Gallup since 1972. When life in prison without parole is listed as a poll option, the support for the death penalty drops substantially; a 2010 Gallup poll found 49% preferring the death penalty and 46% favoring life without parole.

History


The first recorded death sentence in the British North American colonies was carried out in 1608 on Captain George Kendall, who was executed by firing squad at the Jamestown colony
Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown was a settlement in the Colony of Virginia. Established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 14, 1607 , it was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, following several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke...

 for allegedly spying for the Spanish government.

The Espy file, compiled by M. Watt Espy
M. Watt Espy
Major Watt Espy, Jr. was an researcher and expert on capital punishment in the United States.Espy, a resident of Headland, Alabama, was an author, with John Ortiz Smykla, of The Espy Files, a database of executions carried out in the United States and preceding territories from 1608, which is the...

 and John Ortiz Smykla, lists 15,269 people executed in the United States and its predecessor colonies between 1608 and 1991. 4,661 executions occurred in the U.S. in the period from 1930 to 2002 with about two-thirds of the executions occurring in the first 20 years. Additionally, the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 executed 135 soldiers between 1916 and 1999.

The largest single execution in United States history was the hanging of 38 Dakota people convicted of murder
Murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

 and rape
Rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

 during the brutal Dakota War of 1862
Dakota War of 1862
The Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising, was an armed conflict between the United States and several bands of the eastern Sioux. It began on August 17, 1862, along the Minnesota River in southwest Minnesota...

. They were executed simultaneously on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota
Mankato, Minnesota
Mankato is a city in Blue Earth, Nicollet, and Le Sueur counties in the U.S. state of Minnesota. The population was 39,309 at the 2010 census, making it the fourth largest city in Minnesota outside of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. The county seat of Blue Earth County, it is located...

. A single blow from an axe cut the rope that held the large four-sided platform, and the prisoners (except for one whose rope had broken and who had to be re-hanged) fell to their deaths. The second largest mass execution was also a hanging: the execution of 13 African American soldiers for taking part in the Houston Riot
Houston Riot (1917)
The Houston Riot of 1917, or Camp Logan Riot, was a mutiny by 156 African American soldiers of the Third Battalion of the all-black Twenty-fourth United States Infantry. It occupied most of one night, and resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and sixteen civilians. The rioting soldiers were tried...

 in 1917. The largest non-military public mass execution in one of the original thirteen colonies occurred in 1723, when 26 convicted pirates were hanged in Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is a city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States, about south of Providence. Known as a New England summer resort and for the famous Newport Mansions, it is the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport which houses the United States Naval War...

 by order of the Admiralty Court
Admiralty court
Admiralty courts, also known as maritime courts, are courts exercising jurisdiction over all maritime contracts, torts, injuries and offences.- Admiralty Courts in England and Wales :...

.

Michigan


Historically, several states have always been without capital punishment, the earliest being Michigan
Capital punishment in Michigan
Capital punishment has been illegal in the U.S. State of Michigan since 1846, making Michigan's death penalty history unusual in contrast to other States. Michigan was the first English-speaking government in the world to abolish totally the death penalty for ordinary crimes. The Michigan State...

, which has never conducted a single execution since it entered the Union. (However, one federal execution occurred in Michigan
Tony Chebatoris
Anthony Chebatoris , was the only person executed for a capital crime in Michigan since it became a state in 1837. He was tried and executed by the federal authorities...

 in 1938.) Shortly after attaining statehood, Michigan abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes, becoming the first English-speaking government in the world to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

. In 1963, Michigan amended its constitution to prevent later attempts at reinstatement. Every attempt through referendums and voter initiatives to reinstate the penalty since 1963 has failed, the latest being a failed attempt at a referendum in 2004.

Alaska and Hawaii


The newest two states, Alaska and Hawaii, abolished the death penalty prior to statehood. Alaska, however, had executed eight men during the earlier territorial government (1900–1959) and even earlier "Miner's Courts" had executed a number of men in the 19th century.

Other states


Other states with long tenures of no death penalty include Wisconsin
Capital punishment in Wisconsin
Capital punishment in Wisconsin was abolished in 1853. Wisconsin was one of the earliest United States states to abolish the death penalty, and, along with Michigan, one of only two states that has performed only one execution in its history....

 (with the distinction of being the only state to perform a single state-level execution in its history, and also the first to abolish the death penalty for all crimes), Rhode Island
Capital punishment in Rhode Island
Rhode Island is one of the earliest states of the United States to abolish capital punishment, having completely abolished it for all crimes in 1852. The death penalty was later reintroduced in 1872, but it never was carried out before being abolished again in 1984.Rhode Island performed 52...

 (although later reintroduced, it was unused and abolished again), Maine
Capital punishment in Maine
- Overview :Between 1644 and 1885, 21 people were executed in Maine. Ten of these executions were carried out before statehood , and eleven after. Hanging was the only method of execution....

, North Dakota, Minnesota, West Virginia
Capital punishment in West Virginia
Prior to secession from the Confederacy and admission to the Union on June 20, 1863, West Virginia was a part of Virginia. 43 people were executed under Virginia's authority, 112 after statehood....

, Iowa, and Vermont
Capital punishment in Vermont
The death penalty was a legal form of punishment in Vermont until 1965. Vermont last executed a prisoner in 1954. However, Vermont statutes still state that the punishment for treason is death....

. The District of Columbia has also abolished the death penalty; it was last applied there in 1957. One state, Oregon, abolished the death penalty through an overwhelming majority in a 1964 public referendum, but reinstated it in a 1984 joint death penalty/life imprisonment referendum by an even higher margin, after a similar 1978 referendum succeeded but was not implemented due to judicial rulings.

Recent abolition


As of March 2011, the following U.S. states have fully abolished the death penalty: Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The District of Columbia has also abolished the death penalty; New Mexico may yet execute two condemned inmates sentenced prior to abolition. In Illinois, where recent abolition legislation took effect on July 1, 2011, all former death row inmates have been moved to regular jail cells.

Only three of the above states have legislatively abolished the death penalty in the so-called "modern era of capital punishment
Gregg v. Georgia
Gregg v. Georgia, Proffitt v. Florida, Jurek v. Texas, Woodson v. North Carolina, and Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 153 , reaffirmed the United States Supreme Court's acceptance of the use of the death penalty in the United States, upholding, in particular, the death sentence imposed on Troy Leon...

", and only two have attained de facto abolition through their state judiciaries; the remainder either abolished capital punishment before the moratorium was lifted, or had statutes that were struck down and did not reinstate the death penalty.

In 2007, New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 became the first state to repeal the death penalty in the modern system of capital punishment, followed by New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

 in 2009 (though not retroactively, permitting the future execution of two inmates on the state's death row), and Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

 in 2011 (with the Governor commuting the death sentences of all death row inmates). However, in states with a large death row
Death row
Death row signifies the place, often a section of a prison, that houses individuals awaiting execution. The term is also used figuratively to describe the state of awaiting execution , even in places where no special facility or separate unit for condemned inmates exists.After individuals are found...

 population and regular executions, including California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 and Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, the death penalty remains strongly in the landscape and is unlikely to end at any time soon.

Four states in the modern era, Nebraska in 2008, New York
Capital punishment in New York
Capital punishment in New York has not been practiced since 1963, when Eddie Mays was electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison. The state was the first to adopt the electric chair as a method of execution, which replaced hanging. The state is third in recorded number of executions since 1608, after...

 and Kansas
Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

 in 2004, and Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 in 1984, had their statutes ruled unconstitutional by state courts. The death rows of New York and Massachusetts were disestablished. Of the four states, only Nebraska has performed executions since the constitutionality of capital punishment was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1976, the four states having done so last in 1997, 1963, 1965, and 1947, respectively. In New York and Massachusetts, attempts to restore the death penalty were unsuccessful, while Kansas successfully appealed
Kansas v. Marsh
Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163 , is a case decided by the United States Supreme Court. The Court held that a Kansas death penalty statute was consistent with the U.S...

 State v. Kleypas, the Kansas Supreme Court
Kansas Supreme Court
The Kansas Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in the state of Kansas. Composed of seven justices, led by Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, the Court supervises the legal profession, administers over the judicial branch, and serves as the state court of last resort in the appeals...

 decision that declared the state's death penalty statute unconstitutional, to the U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 -- and death sentences continue to be sought. New York had previously abolished the death penalty temporarily, in 1860. Nebraska has performed three executions since 1976, all in the 1990s; its statute has been ineffective since February 8, 2008, when the method used, electrocution, was ruled unconstitutional by the Nebraska Supreme Court
Nebraska Supreme Court
The Nebraska Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. state of Nebraska. The Court consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. Each Justice is initially appointed by the Governor of Nebraska; using the Missouri Plan, each Justice is then subject to a retention vote for additional...

. The Governor, a critic of the Court's decision, has yet to give final approval to the bill, though he is highly likely to do so.

The only jurisdictions with constitutional death penalty statutes that have not performed an execution since 1976 are New Hampshire
New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...

, Kansas
Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

, and the United States military, although all have populated death rows.

Puerto Rico


The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

 has no death penalty. Puerto Rico instituted a four-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty in 1917. The last execution took place in 1927 and the Puerto Rican legislature
Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico
The Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico is the territorial legislature of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The structure and responsibilities of the Legislative Assembly are defined in Article III of the Constitution of Puerto Rico....

 abolished the death penalty in 1929.

Puerto Rico's constitution
Constitution of Puerto Rico
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is the controlling government document of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It is composed of nine articles detailing the structure of the government as well as the function of several of its institutions. The document also contains an extensive...

 expressly forbids capital punishment, stating "The death penalty shall not exist", setting it apart from all US states and territories other than Michigan, which also has a constitutional prohibition (eleven other states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment through statutory law); however, capital punishment is still applicable to offenses committed in Puerto Rico, if they fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, though federal death penalty prosecutions that have occurred in Puerto Rico have generated significant controversy.

Suspension by Supreme Court


Capital punishment was suspended in the United States from 1972 through 1976 primarily as a result of the Supreme Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia
Furman v. Georgia
Furman v. Georgia, was a United States Supreme Court decision that ruled on the requirement for a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty. The case led to a de facto moratorium on capital punishment throughout the United States, which came to an end when Gregg v. Georgia was...

, . The last pre-Furman execution was that of Luis Monge
Luis Monge
Luis José Monge was a convicted murderer who was executed in the gas chamber at Colorado State Penitentiary in 1967. Monge was the last inmate to be executed before an unofficial moratorium on executions began in the United States in 1972.- Murders :Monge, a Denver salesman, was a native of...

 on June 2, 1967. In this case, the court found the imposition of the death penalty in a consolidated group of cases to be unconstitutional, on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment is a phrase describing criminal punishment which is considered unacceptable due to the suffering or humiliation it inflicts on the condemned person...

 in violation of the eighth amendment
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this amendment's Cruel and Unusual...

 to the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

.

In Furman, the United States Supreme Court considered a group of consolidated cases. The lead case involved an individual convicted under Georgia's death penalty statute, which featured a "unitary trial" procedure in which the jury was asked to return a verdict of guilt or innocence and, simultaneously, determine whether the defendant would be punished by death or life imprisonment.

In a five-to-four decision, the Supreme Court struck down the imposition of the death penalties in each of the consolidated cases as unconstitutional. The five justices in the majority did not produce a common opinion or rationale for their decision, however, and agreed only on a short statement announcing the result. The narrowest opinions, those of Byron White
Byron White
Byron Raymond "Whizzer" White won fame both as a football halfback and as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Appointed to the court by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, he served until his retirement in 1993...

 and Potter Stewart
Potter Stewart
Potter Stewart was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. During his tenure, he made, among other areas, major contributions to criminal justice reform, civil rights, access to the courts, and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.-Education:Stewart was born in Jackson, Michigan,...

, expressed generalized concerns about the inconsistent application of the death penalty across a variety of cases but did not exclude the possibility of a constitutional death penalty law. Stewart and William O. Douglas
William O. Douglas
William Orville Douglas was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. With a term lasting 36 years and 209 days, he is the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court...

 worried explicitly about racial discrimination in enforcement of the death penalty. Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving from October 1967 until October 1991...

 and William J. Brennan, Jr.
William J. Brennan, Jr.
William Joseph Brennan, Jr. was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1956 to 1990...

 expressed the opinion that the death penalty was proscribed absolutely by the Eighth Amendment as "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Though many observers expected few, if any, states to readopt the death penalty after Furman, 37 states did in fact enact new death penalty statutes which attempted to address the concerns of White and Stewart. Some of the states responded by enacting "mandatory" death penalty statutes which prescribed a sentence of death for anyone convicted of certain forms of murder (White had hinted such a scheme would meet his constitutional concerns in his Furman opinion).

Other states adopted "bifurcated" trial and sentencing procedures, with various procedural limitations on the jury's ability to pronounce a death sentence designed to limit juror discretion. The Court clarified Furman in Woodson v. North Carolina, and Roberts v. Louisiana, , , which explicitly forbade any state from punishing a specific form of murder (such as that of a police officer) with a mandatory death penalty.

Capital punishment resumed



In 1976, contemporaneously with Woodson and Roberts, the Court decided Gregg v. Georgia
Gregg v. Georgia
Gregg v. Georgia, Proffitt v. Florida, Jurek v. Texas, Woodson v. North Carolina, and Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 153 , reaffirmed the United States Supreme Court's acceptance of the use of the death penalty in the United States, upholding, in particular, the death sentence imposed on Troy Leon...

, and upheld a procedure in which the trial of capital crimes was bifurcated into guilt-innocence and sentencing phases. At the first proceeding, the jury decides the defendant's guilt; if the defendant is innocent or otherwise not convicted of first-degree murder, the death penalty will not be imposed. At the second hearing, the jury determines whether certain statutory aggravating factors exist, and whether any mitigating factor
Mitigating factor
A mitigating factor, in law, is any information or evidence presented to the court regarding the defendant or the circumstances of the crime that might result in reduced charges or a lesser sentence.-Death penalty in the United States:...

s exist, and, in many jurisdictions, weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors in assessing the ultimate penalty — either death or life in prison, either with or without parole.

The 1977 Coker v. Georgia
Coker v. Georgia
Coker v. Georgia, , held that the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution forbade the death penalty for the crime of rape of a woman.-Facts:...

decision barred the death penalty for rape
Rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

, and, by implication, for any offense other than murder. The current federal kidnapping statute, however, may be exempt because the death penalty applies if the victim expires in the perpetrator's custody, not necessarily by his hand, thus stipulating a resulting death, which was the wording of the objection. In addition, the federal government retains the death penalty for such non-murder offenses as treason, espionage and crimes under military jurisdiction; there has been no challenge to these statutes as of 2007.

Executions resumed on January 17, 1977, when Gary Gilmore
Gary Gilmore
Gary Mark Gilmore was an American criminal, and murderer, who gained international notoriety for demanding that his own death sentence be fulfilled following two murders he committed in Utah. He became the first person executed in the United States after the U.S...

 went before a firing squad
Execution by firing squad
Execution by firing squad, sometimes called fusillading , is a method of capital punishment, particularly common in the military and in times of war.Execution by shooting is a fairly old practice...

 in Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

. But the pace was quite halting due to use of litigation tactics which involved filing repeated writs for habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

, which succeeded for many in delaying their actual execution for many years. Although hundreds of individuals were sentenced to death in the U.S. during the 1970s and early 1980s, only ten people besides Gilmore (who had waived all of his appeal rights) were actually executed prior to 1984.

The United States Supreme Court, though, has placed two major restrictions on the use of the death penalty. First, the Supreme Court case of Atkins v. Virginia
Atkins v. Virginia
Atkins v. Virginia, , is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 6-3 that executing the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments.-The case:...

, decided June 20, 2002, held that executions of mentally retarded criminals are "cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment is a phrase describing criminal punishment which is considered unacceptable due to the suffering or humiliation it inflicts on the condemned person...

s" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this amendment's Cruel and Unusual...

. Generally, a person with an IQ
Intelligence quotient
An intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a score derived from one of several different standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. When modern IQ tests are constructed, the mean score within an age group is set to 100 and the standard deviation to 15...

 below 70 is considered to be mentally retarded. Prior to this decision, between 1984 and 2002 forty-four mentally retarded inmates were executed.

Second, in 2005 the Supreme Court's decision in Roper v. Simmons
Roper v. Simmons
Roper v. Simmons, was a decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18. The 5-4 decision overruled the Court's prior ruling upholding such sentences on offenders above or at the...

, , abolished executions for persons under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.

New Mexico repealed its death penalty statute on March 17, 2009, becoming the second state (after New Jersey) to abolish the death penalty since executions resumed in 1976 (However, the only prisoner executed after 1976 wanted to be executed). The law, signed by Governor Bill Richardson, took effect on July 1, 2009 and replaces the death penalty with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The law, though, is not retroactive – inmates currently on New Mexico's Death Row and persons convicted of capital offenses committed before this date may still be sentenced to death under New Mexico's pre-existing death penalty statute. Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

 is considering legislation to abolish its death penalty in the current legislative session. A bill to abolish the death penalty was vetoed by former governor M. Jodi Rell
M. Jodi Rell
Mary Jodi Rell is a Republican politician and was the 87th Governor of the U.S. state of Connecticut from 2004 until 2011. She was the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut under Governor John G. Rowland, who resigned during a corruption investigation. Rell is Connecticut's second female Governor,...

 in June 2009 after it easily passed in the General Assembly. Current governor Dan Malloy
Dan Malloy
Dannel Patrick "Dan" Malloy is the 88th and current Governor of Connecticut. He was the Mayor of Stamford, Connecticut from December 1995 until December 2009. Malloy had been endorsed by the Connecticut Democratic Party on May 22, 2010 over 2006 Democratic U.S...

 indicated he would sign a bill abolishing the death penalty if it was passed by the General Assembly.

Possibly in part due to expedited federal habeas corpus
Habeas corpus in the United States
Habeas corpus , Latin for "you [shall] have the body," is the name of a legal action or writ by means of which detainees can seek relief from unlawful imprisonment...

 procedures embodied in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, is an act of Congress signed into law on April 24, 1996...

, the pace of executions has picked up. Since the death penalty was reauthorized in 1976, 1,210 people have been executed, almost exclusively by the states, with most occurring after 1990. Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 has accounted for over a third of modern executions (and over four times as many as Virginia, the state with the second-highest number); California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 has the greatest number of prisoners on death row, but has held relatively few executions. See the table for executions and death row inmates by jurisdiction.

New concerns post-Furman


In the decades since Furman, new questions have emerged about whether or not prosecutorial arbitrariness has replaced sentencing arbitrariness. A study by Pepperdine University School of Law published in Temple Law Review, “Unpredictable Doom and Lethal Injustice: An Argument for Greater Transparency in Death Penalty Decisions," surveyed the decision-making process among prosecutors in various states. The authors found that prosecutors' capital punishment filing decisions remain marked by local “idiosyncrasies,” suggesting they are not in keeping with the spirit of the Supreme Court’s directive. This means that “the very types of unfairness that the Supreme Court sought to eliminate” may still “infect capital cases.” Wide prosecutorial discretion remains because of overly broad criteria. California law, for example, has 22 “special circumstances,” making nearly all premeditated murders potential capital cases. The 37 states that have the death penalty have varying numbers and types of “death qualifiers” – circumstances that allow for capital charges. The number varies from a high of 34 in California to 22 in Colorado and Delaware to 12 in Texas, Nebraska, Georgia and Montana. The study's authors call for reform of state procedures along the lines of reforms in the federal system, which the U.S. Department of Justice initiated with a 1995 protocol.

Crimes subject to capital punishment


Crimes subject to the death penalty vary by jurisdiction. All jurisdictions that use capital punishment designate the highest grade of murder
Murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

 a capital crime, although most jurisdictions require aggravating circumstances. Treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 against the United States, as well as treason against the states of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Washington are capital offenses.

Other capital crimes include: the use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, espionage
Espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

, terrorism
Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

, certain violations of the Geneva Conventions
War Crimes Act of 1996
The War Crimes Act of 1996 was passed with overwhelming majorities by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton....

 that result in the death of one or more persons, and treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 at the federal level; aggravated rape in Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

, Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, and Oklahoma
Oklahoma
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

; extortionate kidnapping in Oklahoma
Oklahoma
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

; aggravated kidnapping
Kidnapping
In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority...

 in Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

, Idaho
Idaho
Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

, Kentucky
Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

 and South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

; aircraft hijacking in Alabama
Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

; drug trafficking resulting in a person's death in Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

 and Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

; train wrecking which leads to a person's death, and perjury which leads to a person's death in California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

.

Additionally, the Uniform Code of Military Justice
Uniform Code of Military Justice
The Uniform Code of Military Justice , is the foundation of military law in the United States. It is was established by the United States Congress in accordance with the authority given by the United States Constitution in Article I, Section 8, which provides that "The Congress shall have Power . ....

 allows capital punishment for a list of offenses during wartime including: desertion
Desertion
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

, mutiny
Mutiny
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

, spying, and misconduct before the enemy. In practice, no one has been executed for a crime other than murder or conspiracy to murder since James Coburn
James Coburn (criminal)
James Coburn was the last defendant executed in the United States for a crime other than murder.A white farmhand, Coburn was convicted of robbery in Dallas County, Alabama and was sentenced to death...

 was executed for robbery
Robbery
Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear. At common law, robbery is defined as taking the property of another, with the intent to permanently deprive the person of that property, by means of force or fear....

 in Alabama on September 4, 1964.

On June 25, 2008 in Kennedy v. Louisiana
Kennedy v. Louisiana
Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that held that the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause did not permit a state to punish the crime of rape of a child with the death penalty; more broadly, the power of the state...

, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Louisiana's death penalty for child rapists, saying "there is a distinction between intentional first-degree murder on the one hand and nonhomicide crimes against individual persons." The Court went further, ruling out the death penalty for any crime against an individual (as opposed to "offenses against the state," such as treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 or espionage
Espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

, or crimes against humanity) "where the victim’s life was not taken."

As of November 2008, there is only one person on death row facing capital punishment who has not been convicted of murder. Demarcus Sears remains under a death sentence in Georgia for the crime of "Kidnapping With Bodily Injury." Sears was convicted in 2006 for the Kidnapping and Bodily Injury of victim Gloria Ann Wilbur. Wilbur was kidnapped and beaten in Georgia, raped in Tennessee, and murdered in Kentucky. Sears was never charged with the murder of Wilbur in Kentucky, but was sentenced to death by a jury in Georgia for Kidnapping with Bodily Injury.

Several people who were executed have received posthumous pardons for their crimes. For example, slave revolt was a capital crime, and many who were executed for that reason have since been posthumously pardoned.

The last executions solely for crimes other than homicide:
Crime Convict Date State
Aiding a runaway slave
Runaway Slave
Runaway Slave is the debut album from Hip Hop duo Showbiz and A.G., members of legendary New York crew D.I.T.C..-Album information:The effort was a highly praised underground release, but didn't sell strong numbers...

Starling Carlton South Carolina
Arson
Arson
Arson is the crime of intentionally or maliciously setting fire to structures or wildland areas. It may be distinguished from other causes such as spontaneous combustion and natural wildfires...

George Hughes, George Smith, and Asbury Hughes Alabama
Burglary
Burglary
Burglary is a crime, the essence of which is illicit entry into a building for the purposes of committing an offense. Usually that offense will be theft, but most jurisdictions specify others which fall within the ambit of burglary...

Frank Bass Alabama
Criminal assault
Assault
In law, assault is a crime causing a victim to fear violence. The term is often confused with battery, which involves physical contact. The specific meaning of assault varies between countries, but can refer to an act that causes another to apprehend immediate and personal violence, or in the more...

Rudolph Wright California
Concealing the birth/death of an infant
Concealing birth
Concealing a birth is the act of a parent failing to report the birth of a child. The term is sometimes used to refer to hiding the birth of a child from friends or family, but is most often used when the appropriate authorities have not been informed about a stillbirth or the death of a newborn...

Hannah Piggen Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 (Middlesex County
Middlesex County, Massachusetts
-National protected areas:* Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge* Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge* Longfellow National Historic Site* Lowell National Historical Park* Minute Man National Historical Park* Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge...

)
Conspiracy to Commit Murder Five unnamed Yuki men California
Counterfeit
Counterfeit
To counterfeit means to illegally imitate something. Counterfeit products are often produced with the intent to take advantage of the superior value of the imitated product...

ing
Thomas Davis Alabama
Desertion
Desertion
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

Eddie Slovik
Eddie Slovik
Edward Donald Slovik was a private in the United States Army during World War II and the only American soldier to be court-martialled and executed for desertion since the American Civil War....

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines
Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines
Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is a commune in the Haut-Rhin department in Alsace in north-eastern France.-Geography:Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines nestles in the massif of the Vosges Mountains, where it occupies the beautiful V-shaped valley of the Lièpvrette...

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 (Firing squad
Execution by firing squad
Execution by firing squad, sometimes called fusillading , is a method of capital punishment, particularly common in the military and in times of war.Execution by shooting is a fairly old practice...

).
Espionage
Espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 (Federal execution)
Forgery
Forgery
Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or...

Unknown defendant South Carolina
Horse stealing (Grand Larceny
Larceny
Larceny is a crime involving the wrongful acquisition of the personal property of another person. It was an offence under the common law of England and became an offence in jurisdictions which incorporated the common law of England into their own law. It has been abolished in England and Wales,...

)
Theodore Velenquez California
Kidnapping
Kidnapping
In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority...

Billy Monk California
Piracy
Piracy
Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea. The term can include acts committed on land, in the air, or in other major bodies of water or on a shore. It does not normally include crimes committed against persons traveling on the same vessel as the perpetrator...

 (Slave Trading)
Nathaniel Gordon
Nathaniel Gordon
Nathaniel Gordon was the only American slave trader to be tried, convicted, and executed "for being engaged in the Slave Trade" in accordance with the Piracy Law of 1820.Gordon was born in Portland, Maine...

New York (Federal execution)
Rape
Rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

Ronald Wolfe
Ronald Wolfe (rapist)
Ronald Wolfe was the last person executed in the United States for non-homicidal rape, and second-to-last put to death for crime other than murder...

Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

Robbery
Robbery
Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear. At common law, robbery is defined as taking the property of another, with the intent to permanently deprive the person of that property, by means of force or fear....

James Coburn
James Coburn (criminal)
James Coburn was the last defendant executed in the United States for a crime other than murder.A white farmhand, Coburn was convicted of robbery in Dallas County, Alabama and was sentenced to death...

Alabama
Slave revolt Caesar, Sam, and Sanford (slaves) Alabama
Theft Jake (slave) Alabama
Train Robbery
Train robbery
Train robbery is a type of robbery, in which the goal is to steal money or other valuables being carried aboard trains.-History:Train robberies were more common in the past than today, and often occurred in the American Old West. Trains carrying payroll shipments were a major target...

Black Jack Ketchum New Mexico Territory
New Mexico Territory
thumb|right|240px|Proposed boundaries for State of New Mexico, 1850The Territory of New Mexico was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from September 9, 1850, until January 6, 1912, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of...

Treason John Conn Texas
Sodomy
Sodomy
Sodomy is an anal or other copulation-like act, especially between male persons or between a man and animal, and one who practices sodomy is a "sodomite"...

/buggery
Anal sex
Anal sex is the sex act in which the penis is inserted into the anus of a sexual partner. The term can also include other sexual acts involving the anus, including pegging, anilingus , fingering, and object insertion.Common misconception describes anal sex as practiced almost exclusively by gay men...

/bestiality
Zoophilia
Zoophilia, from the Greek ζῷον and φιλία is the practice of sex between humans and non-human animals , or a preference or fixation on such practice...

Joseph Ross Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

 (Westmoreland County
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
-Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there were 369,993 people, 149,813 households, and 104,569 families residing in the county. The population density was 361 people per square mile . There were 161,058 housing units at an average density of 157 per square mile...

)
Witchcraft
Witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

Manuel Illinois Country
Illinois Country
The Illinois Country , also known as Upper Louisiana, was a region in what is now the Midwestern United States that was explored and settled by the French during the 17th and 18th centuries. The terms referred to the entire Upper Mississippi River watershed, though settlement was concentrated in...

 (present-day Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

)

The legal process


The legal administration of the death penalty in the United States is complex. Typically, it involves four critical steps: (1) sentencing
Sentence (law)
In law, a sentence forms the final explicit act of a judge-ruled process, and also the symbolic principal act connected to his function. The sentence can generally involve a decree of imprisonment, a fine and/or other punishments against a defendant convicted of a crime...

, (2) direct review, (3) state collateral review, and (4) federal habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

. Recently, a narrow and final fifth level of process—(5) the Section 1983 challenge—has become increasingly important. (Clemency or pardon
Pardon
Clemency means the forgiveness of a crime or the cancellation of the penalty associated with it. It is a general concept that encompasses several related procedures: pardoning, commutation, remission and reprieves...

, through which the Governor
Governor
A governor is a governing official, usually the executive of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the head of state...

 or President
President
A president is a leader of an organization, company, trade union, university, or country.Etymologically, a president is one who presides, who sits in leadership...

 of the jurisdiction
Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility...

 can unilaterally reduce or abrogate a death sentence, is an executive
Executive Power
Executive Power is Vince Flynn's fifth novel, and the fourth to feature Mitch Rapp, an American agent that works for the CIA as an operative for a covert counter terrorism unit called the "Orion Team."-Plot summary:...

 rather than judicial process.)

Direct review


If a defendant is sentenced to death at the trial level, the case then goes into a direct review. The direct review process is a typical legal appeal
Appeal
An appeal is a petition for review of a case that has been decided by a court of law. The petition is made to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision....

. An appellate court
Court of Appeals
A court of appeals is an appellate court generally.Court of Appeals may refer to:*Military Court of Appeals *Corte d'Assise d'Appello *Philippine Court of Appeals*High Court of Appeals of Turkey*United States courts of appeals...

 examines the record of evidence presented in the trial court and the law that the lower court applied and decides whether the decision was legally sound or not. Direct review of a capital sentencing hearing will result in one of three outcomes. If the appellate court finds that no significant legal errors occurred in the capital sentencing hearing, the appellate court will affirm the judgment, or let the sentence stand. If the appellate court finds that significant legal errors did occur, then it will reverse the judgment, or nullify the sentence and order a new capital sentencing hearing. Lastly, if the appellate court finds that no reasonable juror could find the defendant eligible for the death penalty, a rarity, then it will order the defendant acquitted, or not guilty, of the crime for which he/she was given the death penalty, and order him sentenced to the next most severe punishment for which the offense is eligible. About 60% survive the process of direct review intact.

State collateral review


At times when a death sentence is affirmed on direct review, it is considered final. Yet, supplemental methods to attack the judgment, though less familiar than a typical appeal, do remain. These supplemental remedies are considered collateral review, that is, an avenue for upsetting judgments that have become otherwise final. Where the prisoner received his death sentence in a state-level trial, as is usually the case, the first step in collateral review is state collateral review. (If the case is a federal death penalty case, it proceeds immediately from direct review to federal habeas corpus.) Although all states have some type of collateral review, the process varies widely from state to state. Generally, the purpose of these collateral proceedings is to permit the prisoner to challenge his sentence on grounds that could not have been raised reasonably at trial or on direct review. Most often these are claims, such as ineffective assistance of counsel
Ineffective assistance of counsel
Ineffective assistance of counsel is an issue raised in legal malpractice suits and in appeals in criminal cases where a criminal defendant asserts that their criminal conviction occurred because their attorney failed to properly defend the case...

, which require the court to consider new evidence outside the original trial record, something courts may not do in an ordinary appeal
Appeal
An appeal is a petition for review of a case that has been decided by a court of law. The petition is made to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision....

. State collateral review, though an important step in that it helps define the scope of subsequent review through federal habeas corpus, is rarely successful in and of itself. Only around 6% of death sentences are overturned on state collateral review.

Federal habeas corpus


After a death sentence is affirmed in state collateral review, the prisoner may file for federal habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

, which is a unique type of lawsuit that can be brought in federal courts. Federal habeas corpus is a species of collateral review, and it is the only way that state prisoners may attack a death sentence in federal court (other than petitions for certiorari
Certiorari
Certiorari is a type of writ seeking judicial review, recognized in U.S., Roman, English, Philippine, and other law. Certiorari is the present passive infinitive of the Latin certiorare...

 to the United States Supreme Court after both direct review and state collateral review). The scope of federal habeas corpus is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, is an act of Congress signed into law on April 24, 1996...

, which restricted significantly its previous scope. The purpose of federal habeas corpus is to ensure that state courts, through the process of direct review and state collateral review, have done at least a reasonable job in protecting the prisoner's federal constitutional right
Constitutional right
An inalienable right is a freedom granted by a Nature or the Creator's endowment by birth , and may not be legally denied by that government.-United States:...

s. Prisoners may also use federal habeas corpus suits to bring forth new evidence that they are innocent of the crime, though to be a valid defense at this late stage in the process, evidence of innocence must be truly compelling.

Review through federal habeas corpus is narrow in theory, but it is important in practice. According to Eric Freedman, 21% of death penalty cases are reversed through federal habeas corpus.

James Lieberman, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, stated in 1996 that his study found that when habeas corpus petitions in death penalty cases were traced from conviction to completion of the case that there was "a 40 percent success rate in all capital cases from 1978 to 1995." Similarly, a study by Ronald Tabek in a law review article puts the success rate in habeas corpus cases involving death row inmates even higher, finding that between "1976 and 1991, approximately 47% of the habeas petitions filed by death row inmates were granted." The different numbers are largely definitional, rather than substantive. Freedam's statistics looks at the percentage of all death penalty cases reversed, while the others look only at cases not reversed prior to habeas corpus review.

A similar process is available for prisoners sentenced to death by the judgment of a federal court.

Section 1983 contested


Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a state prisoner is ordinarily only allowed one suit for habeas corpus in federal court. If the federal courts refuse to issue a writ
Writ
In common law, a writ is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial jurisdiction; in modern usage, this body is generally a court...

 of habeas corpus, an execution date
Execution warrant
An execution warrant is a writ which authorizes the execution of a judgment of death on an individual...

 may be set. In recent times, however, prisoners have postponed execution through a final round of federal litigation using the Civil Rights Act of 1871
Civil Rights Act of 1871
The Civil Rights Act of 1871, , enacted April 20, 1871, is a federal law in force in the United States. The Act was originally enacted a few years after the American Civil War, along with the 1870 Force Act. One of the chief reasons for its passage was to protect southern blacks from the Ku Klux...

 — codified at  — which allows people to bring lawsuits against state actors to protect their federal constitutional and statutory rights.

Traditionally, Section 1983 was of limited use for a state prisoner under sentence of death because the Supreme Court has held that habeas corpus, not Section 1983, is the only vehicle by which a state prisoner can challenge his judgment of death. In the 2006 Hill v. McDonough
Hill v. McDonough
Hill v. McDonough , was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court challenging the use of lethal injection as a form of execution in the state of Florida. The Court ruled unanimously that a challenge to the method of execution as violating the Eighth Amendment to the United States...

case, however, the United States Supreme Court approved the use of Section 1983 as a vehicle for challenging a state's method of execution as cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment is a phrase describing criminal punishment which is considered unacceptable due to the suffering or humiliation it inflicts on the condemned person...

 in violation of the Eighth Amendment
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this amendment's Cruel and Unusual...

. The theory is that a prisoner bringing such a challenge is not attacking directly his judgment of death, but rather the means by which that the judgment will be carried out. Therefore, the Supreme Court held in the Hill case that a prisoner can use Section 1983 rather than habeas corpus to bring the lawsuit. Yet, as Clarence Hill
Clarence Hill (murderer)
Clarence Edward Hill was a convicted murderer executed by the state of Florida.A native of Mobile, Alabama, Hill was convicted of the October 19, 1982 murder of Pensacola, Florida police officer Stephen Taylor and the wounding of Taylor's partner, Larry Bailly, when the two officers responded to a...

's own case shows, lower federal courts have often refused to hear suits challenging methods of execution on the ground that the prisoner brought the claim too late and only for the purposes of delay. Further, the Court's decision in Baze v. Rees
Baze v. Rees
Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 , was a United States Supreme Court case. The court agreed to hear the appeal of two men, Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling, who were sentenced to death in Kentucky. The men argue that executing them by lethal injection would violate the 8th Amendment prohibition of cruel and...

, upholding a lethal-injection method used by many states, has drastically narrowed the opportunity for relief through 1983.

Mitigating factors


The United States Supreme Court in Penry v. Lynaugh
Penry v. Lynaugh
Penry v. Lynaugh, , sanctioned the death penalty for mentally retarded offenders because the Court determined executing the mentally retarded was not "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment...

and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* Eastern District of Louisiana* Middle District of Louisiana...

 in Bigby v. Dretke
Bigby v. Dretke
Bigby v. Dretke 402 F.3d 551 , the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard a case appealed from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas on the issue of the instructions given to a jury in death penalty sentencing...

have been clear in their decisions that jury instructions
Jury instructions
Jury instructions are the set of legal rules that jurors should follow when the jury is deciding a civil or criminal case. Jury instructions are given to the jury by the jury instructor, who usually reads them aloud to the jury...

 in death penalty cases that do not ask about mitigating factor
Mitigating factor
A mitigating factor, in law, is any information or evidence presented to the court regarding the defendant or the circumstances of the crime that might result in reduced charges or a lesser sentence.-Death penalty in the United States:...

s regarding the defendant's mental health
Mental health
Mental health describes either a level of cognitive or emotional well-being or an absence of a mental disorder. From perspectives of the discipline of positive psychology or holism mental health may include an individual's ability to enjoy life and procure a balance between life activities and...

 violate the defendant's Eighth Amendment
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this amendment's Cruel and Unusual...

 rights, saying that the jury is to be instructed to consider mitigating factors when answering unrelated questions. This ruling suggests that specific explanations to the jury are necessary to weigh mitigating factors.

Methods



Various methods have been used in the history of the American colonies and the United States but only five methods are currently used. Historically, burning
Execution by burning
Death by burning is death brought about by combustion. As a form of capital punishment, burning has a long history as a method in crimes such as treason, heresy, and witchcraft....

, crushing, breaking on wheel
Breaking wheel
The breaking wheel, also known as the Catherine wheel or simply the wheel, was a torture device used for capital punishment in the Middle Ages and early modern times for public execution by bludgeoning to death...

, and bludgeoning were used for a small number of executions, while hanging
Hanging
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

 was the most common method. The last person burned at the stake was a black slave in South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 August 1825. The last person to be hanged in chains
Gibbet
A gibbet is a gallows-type structure from which the dead bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. In earlier times, up to the late 17th century, live gibbeting also took place, in which the criminal was placed alive in a metal cage...

 was a murderer named John Marshall in West Virginia
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

 on April 4, 1913. Although beheading was a legal method in Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

 from 1851 to 1888, it was never used.

The last use of the firing squad between 1608 and the moratorium on judicial executions between 1967 and 1977 was when Utah shot
Execution by shooting
Execution by shooting is a form of capital punishment whereby an executed person is shot by one or more firearms. It is the most common method of execution worldwide, used in about 70 countries, with execution by firing squad being one particular form...

 James W. Rodgers
James W. Rodgers
James W. Rodgers was an American who was sentenced to death by the state of Utah for the murder of miner Charles Merrifield in 1957. In his final statement before his execution in 1960, Rodgers requested a bulletproof vest...

 on March 30, 1960. The last use of the gallows
Gallows
A gallows is a frame, typically wooden, used for execution by hanging, or by means to torture before execution, as was used when being hanged, drawn and quartered...

 between 1608 and the moratorium was when Kansas
Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

 hanged George York on June 22, 1965. The last use of the electric chair
Electric chair
Execution by electrocution, usually performed using an electric chair, is an execution method originating in the United States in which the condemned person is strapped to a specially built wooden chair and electrocuted through electrodes placed on the body...

 between the first electrocution on August 6, 1890 and the moratorium was when Oklahoma
Oklahoma
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

 electrocuted James French
James French (murderer)
James D. French was an American criminal who was the last person executed under Oklahoma's death penalty laws prior to Furman v. Georgia. He was also the only prisoner executed in the United States that year...

 on August 10, 1966. The last use of the gas chamber
Gas chamber
A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poisonous or asphyxiant gas is introduced. The most commonly used poisonous agent is hydrogen cyanide; carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have also been used...

 between the first gassing on February 8, 1924 and the moratorium was when Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

 gassed Luis Monge
Luis Monge
Luis José Monge was a convicted murderer who was executed in the gas chamber at Colorado State Penitentiary in 1967. Monge was the last inmate to be executed before an unofficial moratorium on executions began in the United States in 1972.- Murders :Monge, a Denver salesman, was a native of...

 on June 2, 1967.

The moratorium ended January 17, 1977 with the shooting of Gary Gilmore
Gary Gilmore
Gary Mark Gilmore was an American criminal, and murderer, who gained international notoriety for demanding that his own death sentence be fulfilled following two murders he committed in Utah. He became the first person executed in the United States after the U.S...

 by firing squad in Utah. The first use of the electric chair after the moratorium was the electrocution of John Spenkelink in Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 May 25, 1979. The first use of the gas chamber after the moratorium was the gassing of Jesse Bishop
Jesse Bishop
Jesse Walter Bishop was convicted of the murder of David Ballard, aged 22.In 1977, Bishop was in the process of robbing El Morocco Casino, a Las Vegas Strip casino, when he was interrupted by Ballard, who had left his nearby wedding reception to intervene...

 in Nevada
Nevada
Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

 October 22, 1979. The first use of the gallows after the moratorium was the hanging of Westley Allan Dodd
Westley Allan Dodd
Westley Allan Dodd was a convicted American serial killer and child molester. He has been called "one of the most evil killers in history." His execution on January 5, 1993, was the first legal hanging in the United States since 1965.- His childhood years :Westley Allan Dodd was born in Richland,...

 in Washington January 5, 1993. December 7, 1982 is also an important day in the history of capital punishment in the United States; Charles Brooks, Jr.
Charles Brooks, Jr.
Charles Brooks, Jr. was a convicted murderer who was the first person executed by the state of Texas since it resumed capital punishment. Brooks was also the first person in United States to be executed using lethal injection.-Biography:Brooks was raised in a well-off Fort Worth, Texas family and...

, put to death in Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, was the first person executed by lethal injection
Lethal injection
Lethal injection is the practice of injecting a person with a fatal dose of drugs for the express purpose of causing the immediate death of the subject. The main application for this procedure is capital punishment, but the term may also be applied in a broad sense to euthanasia and suicide...

.

Until the 21st century, electrocution and gassing were the most prevalent methods of execution in the United States. The electrocutions of John Evans
John Louis Evans
John Louis Evans III was the first inmate to be executed by the State of Alabama after the United States reinstituted the death penalty in 1976. The torturous manner of his execution is frequently cited by opponents of capital punishment in the United States...

 and Horace Franklin Douglas, Jr. in Alabama
Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

, Jesse Tafero
Jesse Tafero
Jesse Joseph Tafero , was convicted of murder and executed via electric chair in the state of Florida for the murders of Florida Highway Patrol officer Phillip Black and Donald Irwin, a visiting Canadian constable and friend of Black...

, Pedro Medina
Pedro Medina
Pedro Luis Medina was a Cuban refugee who was executed by the state of Florida for the murder of a 52-year-old woman in Orlando...

, and Allen Lee Davis
Allen Lee Davis
Allen Lee Davis was a convicted murderer executed for the May 11, 1982 Jacksonville, Florida murder of Nancy Weiler, who was three months pregnant at the time...

 in Florida, Alpha Otis Stephens in Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

, William E. Vandiver in Indiana
Indiana
Indiana is a US state, admitted to the United States as the 19th on December 11, 1816. It is located in the Midwestern United States and Great Lakes Region. With 6,483,802 residents, the state is ranked 15th in population and 16th in population density. Indiana is ranked 38th in land area and is...

, Frank J. Coppola, Wilbert Lee Evans, and Derick Lynn Peterson in Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, and the gassings of Jimmy Lee Gray
Jimmy Lee Gray
Jimmy Lee Gray was convicted for the murder of three-year-old Deressa Jean Scales in 1976, after kidnapping and sodomizing her. At the time of this murder, he was free on parole following a conviction in Arizona for the murder of a 16-year-old girl.He was executed in 1983 by the State of...

 in Mississippi
Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

 and Donald Eugene Harding in Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

 were botched and are often cited by opponents of capital punishment as unacceptable outcomes of such methods.

Currently, lethal injection is the method used or allowed in all of the 34 states which allow the death penalty. Nebraska required electrocution, but in 2008 the state's supreme court
Nebraska Supreme Court
The Nebraska Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. state of Nebraska. The Court consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. Each Justice is initially appointed by the Governor of Nebraska; using the Missouri Plan, each Justice is then subject to a retention vote for additional...

 ruled that the method was unconstitutional. In mid-2009 Nebraska officially changed its method of execution to lethal injection. Other states also allow electricity, firing squads, hanging and lethal gas. From 1976 to November 18, 2011, there were 1,277 executions, of which 1,103 were by lethal injection, 157 by electrocution, 11 by gas chamber, 3 by hanging, and 3 by firing squad.

The method of execution of federal prisoners for offenses under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, , , was an act of Congress dealing with crime and law enforcement that became law in 1994. It is the largest crime bill in the history of the US at 356 pages and will provide for 100,000 new police officers, $9.7 billion in funding for prisons and...

 of 1994 is that of the state in which the conviction took place. If the state has no death penalty, the judge must choose a state with the death penalty for carrying out the execution. For offenses under the 1988 Drug Kingpin Law, the method of executions is lethal injection. The Federal Correctional Complex
Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute
The Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute, is a federal prison for adult males located at the intersection of State Road 63 and Springhill Drive, two miles south of Terre Haute, Indiana United States...

 in Terre Haute, Indiana
Terre Haute, Indiana
Terre Haute is a city and the county seat of Vigo County, Indiana, United States, near the state's western border with Illinois. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 60,785 and its metropolitan area had a population of 170,943. The city is the county seat of Vigo County and...

 is currently the home of the only death chamber for federal death penalty recipients in the United States, where inmates are put to death by lethal injection. The complex has so far been the only location used for federal executions post-Gregg; Timothy McVeigh
Timothy McVeigh
Timothy James McVeigh was a United States Army veteran and security guard who detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995...

 and Juan Garza
Juan Garza
Juan Raul Garza was an American murderer and drug trafficker who was executed for a federal crime.-History:...

 were put to death in June 2001, and Louis Jones, Jr. was put to death on March 18, 2003.

In 2004, Utah made lethal injection the only form of capital punishment. However those already on death row were grandfathered on the type of execution they chose at sentencing. At the time of the change in the law there were still three inmates on Utah's death row who had selected firing squad.

The use of lethal injection has become standard. The last executions by other methods are as follows:
Method Date State Convict
Electrocution
Electric chair
Execution by electrocution, usually performed using an electric chair, is an execution method originating in the United States in which the condemned person is strapped to a specially built wooden chair and electrocuted through electrodes placed on the body...

Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

Paul Powell
Shooting Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

Ronnie Lee Gardner
Ronnie Lee Gardner
Ronnie Lee Gardner was an American criminal who received the death penalty for murder in 1985, and was executed by firing squad by the state of Utah in 2010...

Lethal gas
Gas chamber
A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poisonous or asphyxiant gas is introduced. The most commonly used poisonous agent is hydrogen cyanide; carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have also been used...

Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

Walter LaGrand
Hanging
Hanging
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

Delaware
Delaware
Delaware is a U.S. state located on the Atlantic Coast in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It is bordered to the south and west by Maryland, and to the north by Pennsylvania...

William Bailey
Billy Bailey
Billy Bailey was a convicted murderer hanged in Delaware in 1996. He became only the third person to be hanged in the United States since 1965 and the first hanged in Delaware in 50 years...



The remaining two states that allow hanging are New Hampshire
New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...

, which allows it at the decision of the Corrections officials, and Washington, at the decision of the prisoner.

Electrocution was the preferred method of execution during the 20th century. Electric chair
Electric chair
Execution by electrocution, usually performed using an electric chair, is an execution method originating in the United States in which the condemned person is strapped to a specially built wooden chair and electrocuted through electrodes placed on the body...

s have commonly been nicknamed Old Sparky
Old Sparky
Old Sparky is the nickname of the electric chairs in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New York, Texas, and Virginia. It was the nickname of the long-retired electric chair at the now-closed West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West...

; however, Alabama's electric chair became known as the "Yellow Mama
Yellow Mama
Yellow Mama is the euphemistic nickname given to Alabama's electric chair.First installed at Kilby State Prison in Montgomery, Alabama, Yellow Mama acquired its yellow color when painted using highway-line paint from the adjacent State Highway Department lab. The chair was built by a British inmate...

" due to its unique color. Some, particularly in Florida, were noted for malfunctions, which caused discussion of their cruelty and resulted in a shift to lethal injection as the preferred method of execution. Although lethal injection dominates as a method of execution, some states allow prisoners on death row to choose the method used to execute them.

Regardless of the method, an hour or two before the execution, the condemned person is offered religious services, and a last meal
Last meal
The last meal is a customary part of a condemned prisoner's last day. Often, the day of, or before, the appointed time of execution, the prisoner receives a last meal, as well as religious rites, if they desire. In the United States, inmates generally may not ask for an alcoholic drink...

 (except in Texas), the contents of which is often released to the news media. Executions are carried out in private with only invited persons able to view the proceedings; in some cases, journalists have reserved spots, such as in Texas, where The Associated Press is entitled to send a reporter to witness each execution.

Debate


Capital punishment is a controversial issue, with many prominent organizations and individuals participating in the debate. Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

 and some religions oppose capital punishment on moral grounds, while the Innocence Project
Innocence Project
An Innocence Project is one of a number of non-profit legal organizations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand dedicated to proving the innocence of wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing, and to reforming the criminal justice systems to...

 works to free wrongly convicted prisoners, including death row inmates, based on newly available DNA tests. Other groups, such as the Southern Baptists
Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention is a United States-based Christian denomination. It is the world's largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 16 million members...

, law enforcement organizations, and some victims' rights groups support capital punishment.

The United States is one of only three industrialized democracies that still practice capital punishment. From the others, Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 has executed prisoners, like the United States, while South Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea , , is a sovereign state in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, North Korea to the north, and the East China Sea and Republic of China to the south...

 currently has a moratorium in effect.

Elections have sometimes turned on the issue; in 1986, three justices were removed from the Supreme Court of California
Supreme Court of California
The Supreme Court of California is the highest state court in California. It is headquartered in San Francisco and regularly holds sessions in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.-Composition:...

 by the electorate (including Chief Justice Rose Bird
Rose Bird
Rose Elizabeth Bird served for 10 years as the 25th Chief Justice of California. She was the first female Justice, and first female Chief Justice, on that court, appointed by then Governor Jerry Brown...

) partly because of their opposition to the death penalty.

Religious groups are widely split on the issue of capital punishment, generally with more conservative groups more likely to support it and more liberal groups more likely to oppose it. The Fiqh Council of North America
Fiqh Council of North America
The Fiqh Council of North America is an association of Muslims who interpret Islamic law on the North American continent.Its 18 members issue religious rulings, resolve disputes, and answer questions relating to the Islamic faith...

, a group of highly influential Muslim scholars in the United States, has issued a fatwa
Fatwa
A fatwā in the Islamic faith is a juristic ruling concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. In Sunni Islam any fatwā is non-binding, whereas in Shia Islam it could be considered by an individual as binding, depending on his or her relation to the scholar. The person who issues a fatwā...

 calling for a moratorium on capital punishment in the United States until various preconditions in the legal system are met.

In October 2009, the American Law Institute
American Law Institute
The American Law Institute was established in 1923 to promote the clarification and simplification of American common law and its adaptation to changing social needs. The ALI drafts, approves, and publishes Restatements of the Law, Principles of the Law, model codes, and other proposals for law...

 voted to disavow the framework for capital punishment that it had created in 1962, as part of the Model Penal Code
Model Penal Code
The Model Penal Code is a statutory text which was developed by the American Law Institute in 1962. The Chief Reporter on the project was Herbert Wechsler. The current form of the MPC was last updated in 1981. The purpose of the MPC was to stimulate and assist legislatures in making an effort to...

, "in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment." A study commissioned by the institute had said that experience had proved that the goal of individualized decisions about who should be executed and the goal of systemic fairness for minorities and others could not be reconciled.

In total, 139 prisoners have been either acquitted, or received pardons or commutations on the basis of possible innocence, since 1973. Death penalty opponents often argue that this statistic shows how perilously close states have come to undertaking wrongful execution
Wrongful execution
Wrongful execution is a miscarriage of justice occurring when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment, the "death penalty." Cases of wrongful execution are cited as an argument by the opponents of capital punishment....

s; proponents point out that the statistic refers only to those exonerated in law, and that the truly innocent may be a smaller number.

Arguments for and against capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 are based on moral, practical, and religious grounds. Advocates of the death penalty argue that it deters crime, is a good tool for prosecutors (in plea bargain
Plea bargain
A plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case whereby the prosecutor offers the defendant the opportunity to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge or to the original criminal charge with a recommendation of a lighter than the maximum sentence.A plea bargain allows criminal defendants to...

ing for example), improves the community by eliminating recividism by executed criminals, provides closure to surviving victims or loved ones, and is a just penalty for the crimes it punishes. Opponents argue that the death penalty is not an effective means of deterring crime, risks the execution of the innocent
Wrongful execution
Wrongful execution is a miscarriage of justice occurring when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment, the "death penalty." Cases of wrongful execution are cited as an argument by the opponents of capital punishment....

, is unnecessarily barbaric in nature, is levied disproportionately upon men, racial minorities, and the poor, cheapens human life, and puts a government on the same base moral level as those criminals involved in murder.

Another argument (specific to the United States) in the capital punishment debate
Capital punishment debate
The use of capital punishment, frequently known as the death penalty, is highly controversial.-Retribution:Supporters of the death penalty argued that death penalty is morally justified when applied in murder especially with aggravating elements such as multiple homicide, child murder, torture...

 is the cost. The convict is more likely to use the whole appeals process if the jury issues a death sentence than if it issues life without parole. But others who contest this argument say that the greater cost of appeals where the prosecution does seek the death penalty is offset by the savings from avoiding trial altogether in cases where the defendant pleads guilty to avoid the death penalty.

As noted in the introduction to this article, the American public has recently maintained its position of support for capital punishment for murder. However, when given a choice between the death penalty and life imprisonment
Life imprisonment
Life imprisonment is a sentence of imprisonment for a serious crime under which the convicted person is to remain in jail for the rest of his or her life...

 without parole, support has traditionally been significantly lower than polling which has only mentioned the death penalty as a punishment; in the 2010 poll, for instance, the disparity narrowed, with 49% favoring the death penalty and 46% favoring life imprisonment. The highest level of support recorded overall was 80% in 1994 (16% opposed), and the lowest recorded was 42% in 1966 (47% opposed); on the question of the death penalty vs. life without parole, the strongest preference for the death penalty was 61% in 1997 (29% favoring life), and the lowest preference for the death penalty was 47% in 2006 (48% favoring life).

After the September 2011 execution of Troy Davis
Troy Davis
Troy Davis is a Canadian Football League running back who is currently a free agent. He is best known for being the first NCAA Division I-A running back to rush for over 2,000 yards in back to back seasons while at Iowa State...

, believed by many to be innocent, Richard Dieter, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center
Death Penalty Information Center
The Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit organization that focuses on disseminating studies and reports related to the death penalty by itself and others to the news media and general public...

, said this case was a clear wake-up call to politicians across the USA. He said: "They weren't expecting such passion from people in opposition to the death penalty. There's a widely-held perception that all Americans are united in favour of executions, but this message came across loud and clear that many people are not happy with it." Brian Evans of Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

, which led the campaign to spare Davis's life, said that there was a groundswell in America of people "who are tired of a justice system that is inhumane and inflexible and allows executions where there is clear doubts about guilt". He predicted the debate would now be conducted with renewed energy.

Ages of condemned prisoners


Since 1642 (in the 13 colonies, the United States under the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

, and the current United States) an estimated 364 juvenile offenders have been put to death by states and the federal government. The earliest known execution of a prisoner for crimes committed as a juvenile was Thomas Graunger in 1642. Twenty-two of the executions occurred after 1976, in seven states. Due to the slow process of appeals, it was highly unusual for a condemned person to be under 18 at the time of execution. The youngest person to be executed in the 20th century was George Stinney
George Stinney
George Junius Stinney Jr. was, at age 14, the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century.The question of Stinney's guilt and the judicial process leading to his execution remain controversial....

, electrocuted
Electric chair
Execution by electrocution, usually performed using an electric chair, is an execution method originating in the United States in which the condemned person is strapped to a specially built wooden chair and electrocuted through electrodes placed on the body...

 in South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 at the age of 14, June 16, 1944. The last execution of a juvenile may have been Leonard Shockley
Leonard Shockley
Leonard Melvin Shockley was a juvenile executed in the United States for a murder committed when he was under the age of 18. Shockley, a black male, was executed in Maryland in the gas chamber for the murder of on January 16, 1958 when he was 16. Shockley was convicted of murdering a white woman...

, who died in the Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

 gas chamber
Gas chamber
A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poisonous or asphyxiant gas is introduced. The most commonly used poisonous agent is hydrogen cyanide; carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have also been used...

 April 10, 1959, at the age of 17. No one has been under age 19 at time of execution since at least 1964. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 22 people have been executed for crimes committed under the age of 18. 21 were 17 at the time of the crime. The last person to be executed for a crime committed as a juvenile was Scott Hain
Scott Hain
Scott Allen Hain was the last person executed in the United States for crimes committed by the offender as a minor. Hain was put to death by Oklahoma for a double murder–kidnapping he committed when he was 17 years old.-Crime:...

 April 3, 2003 in Oklahoma
Oklahoma
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

.

Before 2005, of the 38 U.S. states that allow capital punishment:
  • 19 states and the federal government had set a minimum age of 18,
  • 5 states had set a minimum age of 17, and
  • 14 states had explicitly set a minimum age of 16, or were subject to the Supreme Court's imposition of that minimum.


16 was held to be the minimum permissible age in the 1988 Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 decision of Thompson v. Oklahoma
Thompson v. Oklahoma
Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815 , was the first case since the moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in the United States in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a minor on grounds of "cruel and unusual punishment."...

. The Supreme Court, considering the case Roper v. Simmons
Roper v. Simmons
Roper v. Simmons, was a decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18. The 5-4 decision overruled the Court's prior ruling upholding such sentences on offenders above or at the...

, in March 2005, found execution of juvenile offenders unconstitutional by a 5–4 margin, effectively raising the minimum permissible age to 18. State laws have not been updated to conform with this decision. Under the US system, unconstitutional laws do not need to be repealed, but are instead held to be unenforceable. (See also List of juvenile offenders executed in the United States)

Distribution of sentences


Within the context of the overall murder rate, the death penalty cannot be said to be widely or routinely used in the United States; in recent years the average has been about one execution for about every 700 murders committed, or 1 execution for about every 325 murder convictions.

Among genders, only 0.9% of those executed since 1976 have been women.

Among those sentenced


It is noted that the death penalty is sought and applied more often in some jurisdictions, not only between states but within states. A 2004 Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

 study showed that while 2.5% of murderers convicted nationwide were sentenced to the death penalty, in Nevada
Nevada
Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

 6% were given the death penalty. Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 gave 2% of murderers the death sentence, less than the national average. Texas, however, executed 40% of those sentenced, which was about four times higher than the national average. California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 had executed only 1% of those sentenced.

Among races


African Americans made up 41% of death row inmates while making up only 12% of the general population. (They have made up 34% of those actually executed since 1976.) However, that number is lower than that of prison inmates, which is 47% According to a 2003 Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

 report, Africans and Europeans were the victims of murder in almost equal numbers, yet 80% of the people executed since 1977 were convicted of murders involving white victims.

A summary of executions in Texas since 1982 concludes:
  • White (216) (46%, pop. ~80%)
  • Black (172) (37%, pop. ~12%)
  • Latin (78) (16%, pop. ~16%)
  • Asian (2) (0.4%, pop. ~5%)


(Percentage totals exceed 100% due to mixed race.)

Public vs. private execution


The last public execution in America was that of Rainey Bethea
Rainey Bethea
Rainey Bethea was the last person to be publicly executed in the United States. Bethea, who was a black man, confessed to the rape and murder of a 70-year-old white woman named Lischia Edwards, and after being convicted of her rape, he was publicly hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky...

 in Owensboro, Kentucky
Owensboro, Kentucky
Owensboro is the fourth largest city by population in the U.S. state of Kentucky. It is the county seat of Daviess County. It is located on U.S. Route 60 about southeast of Evansville, Indiana, and is the principal city of the Owensboro, Kentucky, Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city's...

, on August 14, 1936. It was the last death sentence in the nation at which the general public was permitted to attend without any legally-imposed restrictions. "Public execution" is a legal phrase, defined by the laws of various states, and carried out pursuant to a court order. Similar to "public record" or "public meeting," it means that anyone who wants to attend the execution may do so.

About 1890, a political movement developed in the United States to mandate private executions. Several states enacted laws which required executions to be conducted within a "wall" or "enclosure" to "exclude public view." For example, in 1919, the Missouri legislature adopted a statute (L.1919, p. 781) which required, "the sentence of death should be executed within the county jail, if convenient, and otherwise within an enclosure near the jail." The Missouri law permitted the local sheriff to distribute passes to individuals (usually local citizens) who he believed should witness the hanging, but the sheriffs—for various reasons—sometimes denied passes to individuals who wanted to watch. Missouri executions conducted after 1919 were not "public" because they were conducted behind closed walls, and the general public was not permitted to attend.

Present-day statutes from across the nation use the same words and phrases, requiring modern executions to take place within a wall or enclosure to exclude public view. Connecticut (CGSA 54-100) requires death sentences to be conducted in an "enclosure" which "shall be so constructed as to exclude public view." Kentucky (KRS 431.220) and Missouri (VAMS 546.730) statutes contain substantially identical language. New Mexico's statute (NMSA 31-14-12) requires executions be conducted in a "room or place enclosed from public view." A dormant Massachusetts law (MGLA. 279 § 60) requires executions to take place "within an enclosure or building." North Carolina (NCGSA § 15-188) requires death sentences to be executed "within the walls" of the penitentiary, as do Oklahoma (22 Okl.St.Ann. § 1015) and Montana (MCA 46-19-103). Ohio (RC § 2949.22) requires, "The enclosure shall exclude public view." Similarly, Tennessee (TCA § 40-23-116) requires "an enclosure" for "strict seclusion and privacy." Federal law (18 U.S.C.A. § 3596 and 28 CFR 26.3) specifically limits the witnesses to be present at an execution.

Today, there are always witnesses to executions—sometimes numerous witnesses, but it is the law, not the number of witnesses present, which determines whether the execution is "public."

All of the executions which have taken place since the 1936 hanging of Bethea in Owensboro have been conducted within a wall or enclosure. For example, Fred Adams was legally hanged in Kennett, Missouri, on April 2, 1937, within a 10 feet (3 m) wooden stockade. Roscoe "Red" Jackson was hanged within a stockade in Galena, Missouri
Galena, Missouri
Galena is a city in Stone County, Missouri, United States. The population was 451 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Stone County. Galena is part of the Branson, Missouri Micropolitan Statistical Area.-Geography:...

, on May 26, 1937. Two Kentucky hangings were conducted after Galena in which numerous persons were present within a wooden stockade, that of John "Peter" Montjoy in Covington, Kentucky
Covington, Kentucky
-Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there were 43,370 people, 18,257 households, and 10,132 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,301.3 people per square mile . There were 20,448 housing units at an average density of 1,556.5 per square mile...

 on December 17, 1937, and that of Harold Van Venison in Covington on June 3, 1938. An estimated 400 witnesses were present for the hanging of Lee Simpson in Ryegate, Montana
Ryegate, Montana
Ryegate is a town in and the county seat of Golden Valley County, Montana, United States. The population was 268 at the 2000 census. Ryegate is situated on the north bank of the Musselshell River.-Geography:Ryegate is located at ....

, on December 30, 1939. The execution of Timothy McVeigh
Timothy McVeigh
Timothy James McVeigh was a United States Army veteran and security guard who detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995...

 on June 11, 2001, was witnessed by some 300 people (some by closed circuit television).

Clemency and commutations


The largest number of clemencies was granted in January 2003 in Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

, when outgoing Governor
Governor
A governor is a governing official, usually the executive of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the head of state...

 George Ryan
George Ryan
George Homer Ryan, Sr. was the 39th Governor of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1999 until 2003. He is a member of the Republican Party. Ryan became nationally known when in 2000 he imposed a moratorium on executions and "raised the national debate on capital punishment"...

, who had already imposed a moratorium on executions, pardoned four death-row inmates and commuted the sentences of the remaining 167 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. When Governor Pat Quinn
Pat Quinn (politician)
Patrick Joseph "Pat" Quinn III is the 41st and current Governor of Illinois. He is a member of the Democratic Party. Previously elected three times to statewide office, Quinn was the sitting lieutenant governor and became governor on January 29, 2009, when the previous governor, Rod Blagojevich,...

 signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois in March 2011, he commuted the sentences of the fifteen inmates on death row to life imprisonment
Life imprisonment
Life imprisonment is a sentence of imprisonment for a serious crime under which the convicted person is to remain in jail for the rest of his or her life...

.

Previous post-Furman mass clemencies took place in 1986 in New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, when Governor Toney Anaya
Toney Anaya
Toney Anaya is a U.S. Democratic politician who was born in Moriarty, New Mexico. He went to undergraduate school at Georgetown University and graduated with a law degree from American University's Washington College of Law in 1967...

 commuted all death sentences because of his personal opposition to the death penalty. In 1991 outgoing Ohio
Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

 Governor Dick Celeste
Dick Celeste
Richard Frank "Dick" Celeste is an American politician from Ohio, and a member of the Democratic Party. He served as the 64th Governor of Ohio from 1983-1991.-Early life and career:...

 commuted the sentences of eight prisoners, among them all four women on the state's death row. And during his two terms (1979–1987) as Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 Governor, Bob Graham
Bob Graham
Daniel Robert "Bob" Graham is an American politician. He was the 38th Governor of Florida from 1979 to 1987 and a United States Senator from that state from 1987 to 2005...

, although a strong death penalty supporter who had overseen the first post-Furman involuntary execution as well as 15 others, agreed to commute the sentences of six people on grounds of "possible innocence" or "disproportionality."

Suicide on death row and volunteering for execution


The suicide rate of death row inmates was found by Lester and Tartaro to be 113 per 100,000 for the period 1976–1999. This is about ten times the rate of suicide in the United States as a whole and about six times the rate of suicide in the general U.S. prison population.

According to deathpenaltyinfo.org (November 22, 2011), since the the reinstitution of the death penalty, 137 prisoners have waived their appeals and asked that the execution be carried out. Four states (Connecticut, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota) have executed only volunteers so far.

Exonerations from the death row and innocent executed


According to deathpenaltyinfo.org (November 30, 2011), since the the reinstitution of the death penalty, 139 innocent prisoners have been exonerated from the death row. (No. 139, Gussie Vann from Tennessee, was exonerated in 2011.)
It is unknown how many of the people executed since 1976 may have been innocent, but some of them were executed although there was considerable doubt about their guilt, e.g. Cameron Willingham (2004) and Troy Davis (2011).

Current moratoria and de-facto moratoria


Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, Kansas and New Hampshire have performed no executions, and four states have executed only prisoners who wanted to be executed: Pennsylvania has executed three men, Oregon, two, Connecticut and South Dakota have executed one man, respectively. Therefore, these six states can be regarded as having "de-facto moratoria." However, in 2010, bills to abolish the death penalty in Kansas and in South Dakota were rejected, and New Hampshire even expanded its death-penalty law in 2011. In Connecticut, then-Governor Jodi Rell vetoed a death-abolition bill in 2009, and in 2011, two Democratic senators withdrew their support for a new bill, so the session ended without passage.
Idaho ended its "de-facto moratorium," during which only one "volunteer" had been executed, on November 18, 2011 by executing Paul Ezra Rhoades. Of the 12 prisoners whom Nevada has executed since 1976, 11 wanted to die; Kentucky and Montana have executed two prisoners against their will (KY: 1997 and 1999, MT: 1995 and 1998) and one volunteer, respectively (KY: 2008, MT: 2006); Colorado (in 1997) and Wyoming (in 1992) have executed only one prisoner, respectively.

Democratic Governor Parris N. Glendening halted executions in the state of Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

 by executive order on May 9, 2002, but the subsequent Republican governor, Robert Ehrlich
Robert Ehrlich
Robert Leroy "Bob" Ehrlich, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 60th Governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007. A Republican, he became governor after defeating Democratic opponent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a member of the Kennedy family, 51% to 48% in the 2002 elections...

, resumed executions in 2004. However, on December 19, 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals
Maryland Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals of Maryland is the supreme court of the U.S. state of Maryland. The court, which is composed of one chief judge and six associate judges, meets in the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in the state capital, Annapolis...

 ruled that state executions would be suspended until the manual that spells out the protocol for lethal injections is reviewed by a legislative panel. The state's Department of Corrections had adopted the manual without having a public hearing or submitting it before a committee. Legislative review of the protocol is required before approval under state law.

In North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

, a de-facto moratorium is in place following a decision by the state's medical board that physicians cannot participate in executions, which is a requirement under state and federal law.

In California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in the state of California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 on December 15, 2006, ruling that the implementation used in California was unconstitutional but that it could be fixed.

In Nebraska
Nebraska
Nebraska is a state on the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. The state's capital is Lincoln and its largest city is Omaha, on the Missouri River....

, the Nebraska Supreme Court
Nebraska Supreme Court
The Nebraska Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. state of Nebraska. The Court consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. Each Justice is initially appointed by the Governor of Nebraska; using the Missouri Plan, each Justice is then subject to a retention vote for additional...

 ruled, on February 8, 2008, that the use of the electric chair
Electric chair
Execution by electrocution, usually performed using an electric chair, is an execution method originating in the United States in which the condemned person is strapped to a specially built wooden chair and electrocuted through electrodes placed on the body...

 is unconstitutional—specifically, that its use conflicts with the Nebraska Constitution. As electrocution was the sole legally authorized method of execution in Nebraska, the state had what technically amounts to no legally authorized death penalty, until the introduction of lethal injection in that state in May 2009.

After the U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 agreed to hear the case Baze v. Rees
Baze v. Rees
Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 , was a United States Supreme Court case. The court agreed to hear the appeal of two men, Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling, who were sentenced to death in Kentucky. The men argue that executing them by lethal injection would violate the 8th Amendment prohibition of cruel and...

many states had slowed or halted executions as lawyers for death-row prisoners argued that states should not carry out death sentences using a method that may be ruled unconstitutional. While executions had come to an apparent stop until Baze was examined by the court, this was not the intent, according to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Antonin Scalia
Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

, who stated on October 16, 2007 that stopping all executions by that method was not the high court's intention when it agreed to hear Baze. Just because the justices agreed to take on the case, Scalia said, does not necessarily mean that a moratorium should ensue.

On November 25, 2009, the Kentucky Supreme Court placed a moratorium on executions until it adopts regulations for carrying out the penalty by lethal injection.

In November 2011, Oregon
Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

 governor John Kitzhaber
John Kitzhaber
John Albert Kitzhaber is the 37th Governor of Oregon. He served as the 35th Governor of Oregon from 1995 to 2003 and became the first person to be elected to the office three times when he was re-elected to a non-consecutive third term in 2010...

 announced a moratorium on executions in Oregon, canceling a planned execution and ordering a review of the death penalty system in the state.

See also



Pro-death penalty


Anti-death penalty


Question of racial bias


More information


Further reading

  • Bakken, Gordon Morris, ed. Invitation to an Execution: A History of the Death Penalty in the United States (University of New Mexico Press; 2010) 467 pages
  • Banner, Stuart (2002). The Death Penalty: An American History. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00751-4.
  • Delfino, Michelangelo and Mary E. Day. (2007). Death Penalty USA 2005 - 2006 MoBeta Publishing, Tampa, Florida. ISBN 978-0-9725141-2-5; and Death Penalty USA 2003 - 2004 (2008). MoBeta Publishing, Tampa, Florida. ISBN 978-0-9725141-3-2.
  • Dow, David R., Dow, Mark (eds.) (2002). Machinery of Death: The Reality of America's Death Penalty Regime. Routledge, New York. ISBN 0-415-93266-1 (cloth), ISBN 0-415-93267-X (paperback) (this book provides critical perspectives on the death penalty; it contains a foreword by Christopher Hitchens
    Christopher Hitchens
    Christopher Eric Hitchens is an Anglo-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the...

    )
  • Megivern, James J. (1997), The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey. Paulist Press, New York. ISBN 0-8091-0487-3
  • Osler, Mark William (2009). Jesus
    Jesus
    Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

     on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment
    . Abingdon Press. ISBN 978-0-687-64756-9
  • Prejean, Helen
    Helen Prejean
    Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., is a Roman Catholic religious sister, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, who has become a leading American advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.-Death row ministry:...

     (1993). Dead Man Walking. Random House. ISBN 0-679-75131-9 (paperback)
    (Describes the case of death row convict Elmo Patrick Sonnier
    Elmo Patrick Sonnier
    Elmo Patrick Sonnier was a convicted murderer and rapist who was executed by electrocution at Angola in Louisiana on April 5, 1984...

    , while also giving a general overview of issues connected to the Death Penalty.)