Capital Punishment

V. The Practice of Capital Punishment under Post-Furman Statutes

Currently, 38 jurisdictions in the United States have capital punishment statutes; 15 jurisdictions do not have capital punishment statutes. Jurisdictions with capital punishment statutes are the following: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, the U.S. Government, and the U.S. military. Kansas, New Hampshire, and the U.S. military have not executed anyone under their post-Furman statutes. Jurisdictions without capital punishment statutes are these: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. In December 2007, New Jersey became the latest jurisdiction to abolish its death penalty.

Since Gilmore’s execution in 1977, a total of 1,099 people have been executed in 34 states and by the federal government, which, as noted, has executed 3 (as of April 1, 2008).

Nearly all of the offenders executed since Gilmore have been male, while the gender of the victims is divided nearly evenly between males and females. As for race, 57% of all people executed under post-Furman statutes have been white; about 34% have been black. Thus, the percentage of blacks who have been executed far exceeds their proportion of the general population (about 13%). Particularly interesting is that nearly 80% of the victims of those executed have been white. What makes this finding interesting is that murders, including capital murders (all post-Furman executions have been for capital murders), tend to be intraracial crimes. However, the death penalty is imposed primarily on the killers of white people, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the offender. The figures on defendant–victim racial or ethnic combinations further support this conclusion. Approximately 54% of executions have involved white killers of white victims, and about 21% have involved black killers of white victims. On the other hand, only about 11% of executions have been of black killers of black victims, and there have been only 14 executions of white killers of black persons (less than 2%) (Death Penalty Information Center, 2008).

The number of persons currently on death row in the United States is 3,350 (as of January 1, 2007). California has by far the largest death row population at 669; Florida is second with 388 death row inmates. About 98% of death row inmates are male, 45% are white, 42% are black, 11% are Latina/Latino, and the remainder are of other races or ethnicities. The size of the death row population in the United States does not fluctuate very much from year to year, despite the relatively few executions each year. (The largest number since 1977 was 98, in 1999.) One reason is that the number of new death sentences has been declining in recent years. In 1995, a total of 326 people were sentenced to death—the highest number since 1977; in 2002, the number was about half as many at 169; there were 153 in 2003, 138 in 2004, 128 in 2005, 115 in 2006, and 110 in 2007. Another reason for the lack of much fluctuation in the death row population is that since January 1, 1973, approximately 2,700 of the nearly 7,700 defendants sentenced to death (35%) have been removed from death row by having their convictions or sentences reversed. In addition, since January 1, 1973, a total of 341 death row inmates have received commutations (reductions in sentences, granted by a state’s governor), and 327 have died of natural causes or have been killed (Death Penalty Information Center, 2008).

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