Majority of Executions Come from Just 2% of Counties

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The application of capital punishment has been arbitrary and unusually concentrated within the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to a new report (pdf).


The Death Penalty Information Center says the majority of executions in the U.S. since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the procedure once again, have taken place in just 2% of the nation’s counties.


A total of 1,320 prisoners have been put to death over the last 36 years, with 685 of them occurring in just 62 counties, the report states. Eighty-five percent of counties did not carry out a single execution.


The jurisdiction with the most executions is Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, with 115. Dallas County is second with 50.


Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arizona accounted for 60% of all of the nation’s executions. In fact, 36% of executions took place in Texas.


“The disparate and highly clustered use of the death penalty raises serious questions of unequal and arbitrary application of the law,” Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, wrote in the report.


Dieter also said that counties that utilize capital punishment the most “have some of the highest reversal rates and many have been responsible for errors of egregious injustice.”


For instance, Maricopa County in Arizona, which includes Phoenix, had four times the number of pending death penalty cases as Los Angeles or Houston on a per capita basis. Maricopa’s district attorney responsible for this aggressive use was recently disbarred for misconduct, according to Dieter.


The report also points out that the concentrated application of the death penalty “results in enormous expenses being passed on to taxpayers across the state. Moreover, the correlation between the high use of the death penalty and a high rate of error means that courts in these states will be occupied for years with costly appeals and retrials.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Prince William, Fairfax Among Counties that Account for Majority of U.S. Executions (by Rachel Weiner, Washington Post)

The 2% Death Penalty: How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All (by Richard C. Dieter, Death Penalty Information Center) (pdf)

High Cost of Execution: $700 Million in California if State Kills All on Death Row (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Death Sentences Decline to New Low (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)       

Support for Death Penalty Hits 39-Year Low (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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