Death Row

NEW RESOURCES: "Death Row, USA" Spring 2014 Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row, USA showed an ongoing decline in the size of the death row population. The number of prisoners on death row decreased from 3,070 on January 1, 2014, to 3,054 on April 1. The new total represented a 12% drop from 10 years earlier, when the death row population was 3,487. California continued to have the largest death row, with 743 inmates, followed by Florida (404), Texas (276), Alabama (201), and Pennsylvania (194). The states with the highest percentage of minorities on death row were Delaware (78%) and Texas (72%), among states with at least 10 inmates. The total death row population was 43% white, 42% black, 13% Latino, and 2% other races. Only 1.9% of death row prisoners were female.

Federal Judge in California Rules State's Death Penalty Unconstitutional

In a sweeping ruling on July 16, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney held that California's death penalty is so dysfunctional as to amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Vacating the death sentence of Ernest Jones, who has been on death row for almost 20 years, Judge Carney said the punishment cannot serve the purposes of deterrence or retribution when it is administered to a tiny select few, decades after their sentencing: "Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State. It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose. Such a system is unconstitutional." Read the Court's Opinion.

NEW RESOURCES: "Death Row USA" Winter 2014 Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row USA showed a continuing decline in the number of people on death rows across the country. As of January 1, 2014, there were 3,070 inmates on death row, a decrease of 55 from one year earlier. California continued to have the largest death row, with 742 inmates. Since 2000, the national death row population has decreased by 16%. Texas, which had the second largest death row in 2000, has seen a 39% drop, from 455 to 278. California has had an increase of 29%, from 576 to 742, making it an outlier as the overall death row numbers have dropped. Over 76% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution since 1976 were white, even though nationally, about 50% of murder victims are black. Since 1976, 273 black defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 20 white defendants have been executed for the murder of a black victim.

Texas Inmate Held for Over 30 Years With No Conviction May Be Retried

A retrial date of Sept. 22 has been set for Jerry Hartfield, who has been held without a valid conviction in Texas for over 30 years. Hartfield was convicted of murder in 1977 and sentenced to death. His conviction was overturned in 1980 due to an improperly selected jury, and the appeals court ordered a new trial, but that was never held. Gov. Mark White attempted to commute his sentence in 1983, but without a conviction, the commutation was invalid. In 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that "The status of the judgment of conviction is that Petitioner is under no conviction or sentence." A federal court called Texas's defense of Hartfield's unlawful incarceration "disturbingly unprofessional." The new trial judge scheduled a July 2 hearing to consider a request from prosecutors to conduct psychological testing on Hartfield, who is described in court documents as "an illiterate fifth-grade dropout with an IQ of 51." The Matagorda County District Attorney has offered Hartfield a deal to plead guilty, accept a life prison term and avoid a potential death sentence if he waives all rights to future appeals. Hartfield's lawyers assert that his right to a speedy trial has been violated.

California Building Psychiatric Hospital on Death Row

California announced plans to add a 40-bed psychatric hospital to its death row at San Quentin to treat deeply disturbed inmates in need of 24-hour care for mental illness. In 2013 a federal judge ordered the state to provide death-row inmates access to inpatient psychiatric treatment. Following court-ordered mental evaluations, the state identified 37 men with severe mental illnesses requiring full-time care. Attorney Michael Bien, who argued the case that prompted the action, said, "The reality is these guys are going to live in this place for a long time, and you need to see they get the care they need." California has the largest death row in the country (741 inmates) and has not had an execution since 2006 because of problems with its lethal injection protocol. Suicide among death row inmates was one of the reasons for the court review.

NEW RESOURCES: BJS Releases "Capital Punishment, 2012"

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently issued a new report, "Capital Punishment, 2012," analyzing the use of the death penalty in that year and revealing overall trends since the death penalty was reinstated. The report noted that 2012 was "the twelfth consecutive year in which the number of inmates under sentence of death decreased." Among the statistics not reported elsewhere, BJS noted that the time between sentencing and execution in 2012 was 15.8 years. The average time for all executions since 1976 was 11.3 years. The average age of those on death row at the end of 2012 was 46. About 90% of those on death row went no further than high school in their education. About one-third of those on death row had no prior felony convictions.

New and Timely Resources from DPIC

DPIC recently published a new page that presents execution data for each state and each year since 1976. This allows users to more easily see execution trends in states over time. We have also recently posted updated state data from "Death Row, USA." As of October 1, 2013, there were 3,088 inmates on death row, continuing the decline in death row population since 2000. As developments surrounding lethal injection continue to emerge, users can find current information on our State-by-State Lethal Injection page. Finally, information on legislative action on capital punishment, such as the upcoming vote on repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire, can be found on our Recent Legislation page.

NEW RESOURCES: Latest "Death Row, USA" Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row, USA shows the total death row population continuing to decline in size. The U.S. death-row population decreased from 3,108 on April 1, 2013, to 3,095 on July 1, 2013. The new total represented a 12% decrease from 10 years earlier, when the death row population was 3,517. The states with the largest death rows were California (733), Florida (412), Texas (292), Pennsylvania (197), and Alabama (197). In the past 10 years, the size of Texas's death row has shrunk 36%; Pennsylvania's death row has declined 18%; on the other hand, California's death row has increased 17% in that time. The report also contains racial breakdowns on death row. The states with the highest percentage of minorities on death row were Delaware (78%) and Texas (71%), among those states with at least 10 inmates. The total death row population was 43% white, 42% black, 13% Latino, and 2% other races.

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