Report highlights declining but problematic use of death penalty across US News
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Report highlights declining but problematic use of death penalty across US

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) Friday released its annual year-end report on the death penalty in the US, highlighting continually declining rates of execution despite what the DPIC called “incendiary political advertising that drove the public’s perception of rising crime to record highs.”

For the eighth year in a row, authorities issued fewer than 50 new death sentences and carried out fewer than 30 executions. The DPIC believes these trends point to “the continuing durability of the more than 20-year sustained decline of the death penalty in the United States.”

Use of the death penalty in the US has grown more localized over time, and, while some states made strides in eliminating the death penalty in 2022, other continued to embrace the practice. On Tuesday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown commuted the death sentences of 17 incarcerated people the state’s entire death row to life sentences without the possibility of parole. Conversely, Oklahoma scheduled “25 executions over a 29-month period,” accounting for 58 percent of people incarcerated on death row in the state.

The DPIC identified a concerning trend in those executions that were carried out: 35 percent of execution attempts were “visibly problematic” due to “executioner incompetence, failures to follow protocols, or defects in the protocols themselves.” The DPIC stated that such executions are pursued “with little regard for human rights concerns, transparency, fairness, or even their own ability to successfully carry it out.” When executions do occur, they also highlight an uneven application of the law. The DPIC explains:

Among those executed this year were prisoners with serious mental illness, brain damage, intellectual disability, and strong claims of innocence. In most jurisdictions, these cases would not even be capitally prosecuted today. Two prisoners were executed over the objections of the victims’ families, and two others were executed despite requests from prosecutors to withdraw their death warrants.

The report also identified a key criticism of the death penalty itself: the possibility of innocence. Since 1973, 190 people on death row have been exonerated, often due to misconduct by police and prosecutors and perjury or false accusations by witnesses. This year, Samuel Randolph IV of Philadelphia and Marilyn Mulero of Chicago were exonerated. According to the DPIC, Mulero was convicted “as a result of a false confession coerced by a disgraced Chicago detective.”

In a statement to JURIST, Equal Justice USA Executive Director Jamila Hodge said:

This latest annual report shows growing trends away from the death penalty that make it abundantly clear capital punishment in America is on the way out. Racial bias in the system can be found everywhere in the report, reinforcing why more Americans see the death penalty as an instrument of racial oppression. And the data reveal the system preys on those with severe trauma and mental illness, people whom we have failed as a society.

Prominent human rights organizations like Amnesty International maintain that the death penalty is a violation of human rights. Globally, the US is one of only 55 nations to retain the practice.