† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
The Year in State-Sponsored Homicide
by nancy a heitzeg
As 2013 comes to a close, both Amnesty International and the Death Penalty Information Center offer us a final look at the year in Killing States, both in the USA and around the world. While the overall trend is towards abolition, capital punishment remains an both option and a grim reality in the 31 countries that carried out executions in 2013.
Without further adieu, the numbers. These include only judicially mandated executions and not extrajudicial killings by police, security guards and vigilantes. Those numbers would add untold thousands more.
And the only word I have left: Abolition.
While more than two-thirds of the world’s nations are now abolitionist in law or in practice, thousands are executed around the world each year. China keeps its’ execution numbers a secret, so a complete accounting is not available. Concern has been expressed recently over the increase in secret executions in Japan, and the high rate of executions in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the United States is ranked in the top five of countries carrying out executions.
Methods of execution included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and various kinds of shooting (by firing squad, and at close range to the heart or the head). Public executions were known to have been carried out in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. In Saudi Arabia, executions are usually beheadings with a sword. In one case recorded by Amnesty, a Sudanese man’s head was sewn back onto his body and hung from a pole in a public place.
(Full Size Graphic here)
On Thursday, December 19, the Death Penalty Information Center will release The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report. It will be linked here as soon as it becomes available. Generally, the report finds that executions declined about 10 percent from 2012. Two states were responsible for the majority of executions nationwide. New death sentences remained near historic lows. Several death penalty states with histories of high use, including key southern states, had no death sentences in 2013.
Despite overall declines, an October 2013 report, The 2% Death Penalty: How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All, finds that a handful of jurisdictions account for the over-whelming number of all death sentences and executions.
Today, the Death Penalty Information Center just released their Annual Report, “The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report”. Some highlights:
In line with the death penalty’s decline, the number of states with capital punishment laws dropped to 32 this year, as Maryland became the 18th abolition state. Six states in six years have abandoned capital punishment: Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico.
In 2013, public support for the death penalty as measured in the annual Gallup poll declined to 60%, its lowest level in 40 years. In Boston, a strong majority (57%) of residents supported a sentence of life without parole for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, while only 33% of respondents supported a death sentence.
State-by-state data illustrate the decline in death penalty use this year:
• Two states, Texas and Florida, were responsible for the majority (59%) of executions nationwide. Texas had 16 executions and Florida had 7.
• For the sixth year in a row, Texas had less than 10 death sentences, a stark contrast from 1999, when it recorded 48.
• Prominent death penalty states, including South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana, had no death sentences in 2013.
• California had about 30% of the country’s death sentences, though the state has not carried out an execution in seven years.