‘This represents the 12th consecutive year in which the number of inmates under sentence of death decreased’
Executions in the United States are on a decline. At the end of 2012, 35 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons held 3,033 inmates on death row, down by 32 from the previous year.
“This represents the 12th consecutive year in which the number of inmates under sentence of death decreased,” according to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The report confirms only 56 inmates under federal jurisdiction were held with death sentences at year end 2012.
The state of Florida sentenced 20, followed by California with 13, Texas had nine and Pennsylvania received only six on death row. These four states accounted for 61 percent of those sentenced to death in 2012.
“California, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania held more than half of all inmates on death row on Dec. 31, 2012,” the DOJ reported.
In 2012, the Federal Bureau of Prison and 19 states reported that 79 inmates were received under sentence of death, a 5 percent decrease from the 83 in 2011. “The number of inmates received in 2012 was the smallest number of admissions to death row since 1973, when 44 persons were admitted,” reported the DOJ.
In the report, 13 jurisdictions had fewer inmates, and 18 states had the same number. Florida showed the largest increase (up 10 inmates). “Oklahoma and Texas (down eight each), followed by Mississippi (down seven), North Carolina (down six) and Arizona (down five) had the largest decreases.”
“Twenty states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons removed 111 inmates from under sentence of death: 43 were executed, 17 died by means other than execution and 51 were removed because of commutations of courts overturning sentences or convictions,” the report said. In 2012, a quarter of all prisoners taken off death row came from Texas (17) and Florida (10).
In 2012, 43 executions were carried out in nine states. Those prisoners executed had been on death row an average of 15 years and 10 months; this was eight months less than those executed in 2011.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, capital murder cases steadily increased until the number peaked at 3,601 in 2000. Since the court approved capital punishment, “35 states and the federal government [have] executed 1,320 inmates,” according to the DOJ report.
Between 1977 and 2012, 8,032 inmates were sentenced to death. Despite these sentences, the report shows, “16 percent had been executed, 6 percent died by causes other than execution and 40 percent received other dispositions.” From 1930 through the end of 2012, 5,179 inmates were executed under civil authority.
As of Dec. 31, 2012, 36 states and the federal government authorized the death penalty; however, one state repealed its death penalty statute, while another state had a portion of its statute declared unconstitutional and a third state revised its capital punishment law.
“Ninety-eight percent of inmates under sentence of death were male, and 2 percent were female”
Even though “New Mexico repealed its death penalty in 2009, the repeal was not retroactive, and offenders charged with a capital offense committed prior to the repeal may be eligible for a death sentence,” reported the DOJ. At the end of 2012, the state held two men under previously imposed death sentences, while it sought the death penalty for one person.
“In 2012, the Connecticut legislature repealed the death penalty effective for only those capital offenses committed on or after April 25, 2012. Since the repeal was prospective, 10 men remained under sentence of death as of Dec. 31, 2012,” reported the DOJ.
On Dec. 31, 2012, lethal injections were authorized as the method of execution in all 36 states that had capital punishment. Fifteen jurisdictions sanctioned an alternative method of execution, eight states authorized electrocution, three states authorized gas, three states authorized hanging and two states authorized the use of a firing squad.
“Delaware authorized hangings, Oklahoma authorized electrocution or firing squad, Utah authorized firing squad and Wyoming authorized lethal gas” as alternative methods, if lethal injection is ruled out, according to the report.
In a state that authorizes multiple methods of execution, the condemned prisoner generally selects the method of execution. The DOJ reports, “Five of the 15 states (Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Utah) stipulated which method must be used depending on either the date of the offense or sentencing” and in New Hampshire hanging is authorized only if the lethal injection cannot be used.
In a landmark case, the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in Hobbs v. Jones (2012 Ark.293) compelled the court to reevaluate its Method of Execution Act of 2009 (Ark. Code Ann. Sections 5-4-617 (Supp, 2011).
In the Jones decision, the court ruled that these procedures violated the separation of powers doctrine in Article 4 of the Arkansas Constitution because the legislature “granted the executive branch sole discretion in selecting the method of administering the drugs for lethal injections,” the report said.
In 2012, Delaware revised statutory provisions relating to capital punishment. According to the DOJ report, “The legislature added home invasion as a class B felony offense to its penal codes. Effective on June 1, the state amended the aggravating factors for which death penalty may be imposed to include murder committed in the course of a home invasion.”
Lethal injections are the only method used to execute federal prisoners. For offenses prosecuted under the federal violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the method used is that of the state in which the conviction took place.
At the end of 2012, of all the inmates sentenced to death, 56 percent were white and 42 percent were black. Hispanics, which numbered 384, accounted for 14 percent of the prisoners with known ethnicity. “Ninety-eight percent of inmates under sentence of death were male, and 2 percent were female. The race and sex of inmates under sentence of death has remained relatively unchanged since 2000,” the report concluded.