capital punishment

capital punishment

The 2% Death Penalty: How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases

38m ago
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Is the United States a death penalty country? With death penalty laws on the books in 32 states, it might appear so, but a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center shows the reality is that just 2% of counties account for the majority of death row inmates and executions in the modern era of the death penalty. 80% of American counties have no inmates on death row, and 85% have not had a case result in an execution. Although death penalty cases come from a small number of counties, all state taxpayers share the high cost of pursuing the death penalty, and the costs of review by federal courts are drawn from taxpayers across the country. One of the most thorough studies of death penalty expenses estimated the total cost of one death sentence at $3 million. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, there have been over 8,300 death sentences in the U.S. The estimated total cost of these cases is a staggering $25 billion. These costs largely fall on taxpayers outside the counties that have sought the death penalty. If this cost is divided by the number of executions during that time, the result is almost $20 million per execution. Instead of one execution, states could pay the salaries of over 250 more police officers or teachers for a year at $75,000 each. In those relatively few counties that heavily use the death penalty, the legal system is often fraught with errors. Philadelphia County is responsible for nearly half of Pennsylvania's death row inmates, yet it has paid court-appointed lawyers the lowest fees in the state, frequently has death sentences reversed because of inadequate defense representation, and has a record of racial bias in handing down death sentences. Maricopa County, AZ ranks fourth in the country in the number of death row inmates and has sent many inmates to execution. Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas used the death penalty so aggressively that at one point the county overwhelmed the courts with 149 pending capital cases. In 2012, Thomas was unanimously disbarred by the Arizona Supreme Court for corruption and abuse of power. And the systemic problems in Philadelphia and Maricopa represent a larger trend. A 2000 study found that counties that used the death penalty more often had significantly higher reversal rates than counties that used the death penalty infrequently, meaning that their death sentences are more likely to be overturned due to errors. The vast majority of counties in the U.S. have no one on death row and have not had a case resulting in an execution in over 45 years. In the last 6 years, 6 states have ended the death penalty, and a growing number of District Attorneys are finding that seeking the death penalty no longer makes sense. For the majority of counties in the U.S., the death penalty is already irrelevant. To learn more and to read the full report, "The 2% Death Penalty," visit our website at deathpenaltyinfo.org/twopercent.