Only 1 of 6 Americans Sentenced to Death are Actually Executed

Saturday, May 30, 2015
Execution chamber in Texas

A convicted criminal sentenced to death in the United States faces only a small chance of actually being executed.


Statistics compiled by political science Professor Frank R. Baumgartner at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill show that only one in six inmates (1,359 out of 8,466) put on death row from 1973 to 2013 were executed.


However, the low national rate belies the fact that two U.S. states have much higher rates of following through on capital punishment sentences. In Virginia, 110 out of 152 people put on death row were executed, or 72%.


Baumgartner attributed Virginia’s high rate to the fact that it limits the time one can appeal a death penalty sentence to one year. “If your appeals aren't filed within 12 months, your case will be considered to be final,” he told the BBC News.


The state with the second highest rate is Texas, which executed nearly half of its prisoners to receive the death penalty, 508 out of 1,075, or 47%.


For those sentenced to death by a federal court, their odds for eventually being executed are also very low. During that same 40-year time period, the federal government has sentenced 71 people to death, but only executed three. Currently there are 56 inmates on death row by federal sentencing.


At the other end of the spectrum is California, which has executed only about 1% of its inmates on death row.


Currently, 32 states still have the death penalty, while 18 have outlawed it. The most recent state to do away with it is Nebraska, which banned it last week.


As of the end of 2013, there were 3,194 U.S. inmates who had their death sentences overturned and 392 who had them commuted. That left 2,979 individuals remaining on death row.


“It's a death penalty in name only,” said Baumgartner.


Although a majority of Americans currently support the death penalty in cases of murder—56% in favor versus 38% opposed—support has slowly been slipping, having dropped six percentage points since 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Does A Death Sentence Always Mean Death? (by Charlotte McDonald, BBC News)

Less Support for Death Penalty, Especially Among Democrats (Pew Research Center)

Executions in U.S. Drop to 20-Year Low (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Death Penalty Capital of U.S.: Harris County, Texas (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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