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Democracy & Human Rights

Capital Punishment

Map of the U.S. indicating states with and without capital punishment

Map of the U.S. indicating states with and without capital punishment

Policy Statements

Death Penalty Remains Subject of Debate in United States
White House spokesman says U.S. death penalty is a deterrent
December 2, 2005

In the United States, the death penalty, or capital punishment, may be prescribed by Congress for federal capital crimes and by some states for murder and violent crimes. Arguments in favor of the death penalty in the United States include deterrence and retribution. Opponents say that the risk of executing the innocent should preclude use of the death penalty. Full text

Capital Punishment in U.S. Hit 30-Year Low in 2003
Revised: U.S. Supreme Court bans death penalty for juveniles
March 1, 2005

The following fact sheet on capital punishment in the United States was compiled from U.S. Department of Justice statistics and Department of State sources. This fact sheet was originally published on December 1, 2004; this update reflects a March 1, 2005, ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court banning the execution of those who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime. Full text

U.S. Supreme Court Ends Death Penalty for Juveniles
Divided court overturns sentences in 19 states
March 1, 2005

By Susan Ellis, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- A closely divided Supreme Court ruled March 1 that the death penalty cannot be imposed on youthful murderers who were not yet 18 years of age at the time they committed the crimes, ending a practice used in 19 of the U.S. states. Such executions are a disproportionate punishment for juveniles, whom society views as categorically less culpable than adult criminals, the court said, and violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment contained in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The 5-to-4 decision throws out the current death sentences of 72 juvenile murderers and bars states in the future from seeking to execute minors for crimes. The court had already outlawed executions for offenders who had committed their crimes while still under the age of 16 in 1988. Full text

U.S. Statement to OSCE on Death Penalty
May 27, 2004.

Neither international law nor Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments prohibit use of the death penalty, U.S. diplomat Douglas A. Davidson told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. Davidson was responding to a statement made on behalf of the European Union concerning the May 18 execution of convicted murderer Kelsey Patterson by the state of Texas. In the United States, 38 states "make provision for application of the death penalty, in certain cases and with meticulous due process, based upon legislation passed by the duly elected governments of those states. These laws reflect the will of the people, as is appropriate in a democracy," Davidson said. Full text

U.S. Delegate to OSCE Warsaw Meeting Discusses Death Penalty
October 9, 2003.

In a "Right of Reply" statement at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, U.S. delegate Francis Gaffney explained recent developments in the use of the death penalty in the United States, in particular with respect to juveniles, the mentally ill, and the mentally retarded. Full text

Response to EU Statement on the Death Penalty
May 29, 2003.

Delivered by Chargé d’Affaires Douglas A. Davidson to the OSCE Permanent Council: " Death penalty is a political issue that must be decided domestically. In the United States, this decision is made by the individual states, through a democratic process, and 12 of our states have chosen not to impose capital punishment. Furthermore, in those states that do impose capital punishment, the sentence is carried out only after the rigorous application of due process of law." Full text

Public Debate in U.S. on Death Penalty is ‘Vigorous'
January 16, 2003.

The recent commutation by the governor of the state of Illinois of 167 death sentences "demonstrates once again the vigorous public debate in the United States on the issue of capital punishment," U.S. diplomat Douglas A. Davidson told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. He was responding to statements on the death penalty by the European Union, Switzerland, and Norway. Davidson went on to emphasize the diversity of opinion on the death penalty in the United States, noting that 12 states do not use capital punishment at all, while only 13 states of the 38 that have capital punishment statutes chose to exercise this "ultimate sanction" in 2002. Full text


Capital Punishment 2004
November 2005.

At yearend 2004 the death penalty was authorized by 38 States and the Federal Government. No State enacted new legislation authorizing capital punishment in 2004. Full text

In 2004, 59 inmates were executed, 6 fewer than in 2003
U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
January 13, 2005

Area chart of the number of executions in the United States for 1930 through 2004. Between 1930 and 1947, executions averaged 151 per year, ranging from a low of 117 in 1945 to a high of 199 in 1935. Beginning in 1948, the number of annual executions began to drop off, declining steadily to zero in 1968. No executions were carried out from 1968 through 1976.
The number of executions was sporadic from 1977 through 1983. Starting in 1984, the number began to gradually increase, averaging about 21 per year until 1993. The number of executions jumped from 45 in 1996 to 74 in 1997. After a peak of 98 in 1999, the number of executions has declined: 66 persons were executed in 2001, 71 in 2002, 65 in 2003, and 59 in 2004.
Full text

The Evolution of the Death Penalty in the United States.
August 7, 2002.

"There is no specific mention of the death penalty in the U.S. Constitution
-- not surprisingly perhaps since capital punishment was in
widespread use throughout the world at the time, including in the
American colonies. However, there is evidence that the
framers assumed that some offenses would be "capital" crimes.
For example, the Fifth Amendment specifically makes mention of
such crimes." Full text

Report of the Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment
April 15, 2002.

Chapter 1-Introduction and Background;Chapter 2–Police and Pretrail Investigations; Chapter 3-DNA and Forensic Testing; Chapter 4–Eligibility for Capital Punishment; Chapter 5–Prosecutors' Selection of Cases for Capital Punishment; Chapter 6-Trial Judges; Chapter 7-Trial Lawyers; Chapter 8-Pretrail Proceedings; Chapter 9-The Guilt-Innocence Phase; Chapter 10-The Sentencing Phase; Chapter 11–Imposition of Sentence; Chapter 12–Proceedings following Conviction and Sentence; Chapter 13–Funding; Chapter 14–General Recommendations
Conclusion; Bibliography; Appendix Full text
Report of the Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment Technical Appendix. April 2002. Full text
Report of the Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment Recommendations Only. April 2002. Full text

Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics
U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics brings together data from more than 100 sources about many aspects of criminal justice in the United States. These data are displayed in over 600 tables. Currently this site presents Sourcebook 2003, the 31st edition. The site is updated regularly as new statistics become available. The Sourcebook is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.Full text

The Federal Death Penalty System: Supplementary Data, Analysis and Revised Protocols for Capital Case Review
June 6, 2001.

Results of a U.S. Department of Justice review of allegations that the federal death penalty prosecution unfairly targets minorities. Report analysis reveals that the protections and remedies inherent in the death penalty process prevent racial and ethnic bias. The Study indicated that U.S. attorneys recommend the death penalty in smaller proportions in the submitted cases involving African American or Hispanic defendants than in those involving white defendants. Full text

Resource Guide for Managing Capital Cases.

"The purpose of this resource guide is to provide judges who are assigned capital cases with information about how other judges have handled these cases and an idea of what to expect as the case proceeds. The guide does not prescribe how such cases should be handled, and any examples of case-management approaches discussed should be considered illustrative. The guide should not be cited as legal authority.
This resource guide will be updated periodically as federal courts gain more experience with death-penalty cases. A second volume, focusing on capital habeas case management, is also being prepared."
Full text

Survey of the Federal Death Penalty System. U.S. Department of Justice
September 12, 2000.

"This Survey provides information regarding the federal death penalty system since the enactment of the first modern capital punishment statute in 1988. The Survey explains the Department of Justice's internal decision-making process for deciding whether to seek the death penalty in individual cases, and presents statistical information focusing on racial/ethnic and geographic distribution of defendants and their victims at particular stages of that decision-making process." Full text

Rules Governing Petitions for Executive Clemency: Victim Notification and Comment. Department of Justice. Office of the Pardon Attorney.
In: Federal Register. September 28, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 189), pp. 58223 - 58224. Full text

Rules Governing Petitions for Executive Clemency: Capital Cases. Department of Justice. Office of the Pardon Attorney.
In: Federal Register. August 8, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 153), pp. 48379 - 48381. Full text

German and American Prosecutions
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.1998

An approach to Statistical Comparison which provides a statistical comparison of German and American prosecutions, focusing mainly on charging, conviction, and sentencing rates for selected crimes. Although German prosecutors are legally obligated to charge all serious cases that are prosecutable and American prosecutors have wide discretion, the report finds that the percentage of cases actually charged is similar for most offenses examined. Full text

Federal Death Penalty Cases: Recommendations Concerning the Cost and Quality of Defense Representation.
Prepared by Subcommittee on Federal Death Penalty Cases Committee on Defender Services Judicial Conference of the United States. Honorable James R. Spencer, Subcommittee Chair; Honorable Robin J. Cauthron; Honorable Nancy G. Edmunds.
The recommendations in this report were adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States on September 15, 1998
Full text

Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
Pub.L.104-132, April 24, 1996.
An Act to deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes.
This Act may be cited as the "Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996". Full text


Reports - Organizations - Universities


Capital Punishment: An Overview of Federal Death Penalty Statutes. CRS Report. By Elizabeth B. Bazan.
January 5, 2005.

This report of the Congressional Research Service(CRS) lists the current federal death penalty offenses and summarizes the procedures for civilians death penalty cases. Full text

The Juvenile Death Penalty Today: Death Sentences and Executions for Juvenile Crimes. January 1, 1973 - June 30, 2003.
By Victor L. Streib, Ohio Northern University, The Claude W. Pettit College of Law. July 1, 2003. Full text

Mandatory Justice: Eighteen Reforms to the Death Penalty
This report was presented the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, "Protecting the Innocent: Ensuring competent counsel in death penalty cases", on June 27, 2001.
A distinguished panel composed of former judges, state attorneys general, federal prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and governors recommends adequate compensation, standards and training for defense counsel; the removal of certain classes of defendants and homicides from death penalty eligibility; greater flexibility for introducing evidence that casts doubt on a conviction or sentence; gathering of data on the role of race in capital punishment and involvement of all races in the decision-making process; elimination of a judge's ability to impose a death sentence despite a jury recommendation for life imprisonment; and requiring prosecutors to open their files to the defense in death penalty cases. Full text

The Death Penalty and Offenders with Mental Retardation
Newly released in March 2001 by Human Rights Watch.
This report examines the recent history of capital punishment of mentally retarded offenders in the United States, offering "the first comprehensive human rights-based analysis of such executions."
The report reveals that 25 US states still permit the execution of offenders with mental retardation and that at least 35 such offenders have been executed since 1976. The report explores the topics of mental retardation, legal standards, and criminal culpability, and tells the stories of sixteen individuals "who have been sentenced to death despite the profound intellectual limitations they have suffered since birth."
Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly. Full text

Liebman Study: A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases,
1973 - 1995

James S. Liebman, Law School, Columbia University, New York, New York, June 13, 2000. Full text


American Civil Liberties Union
"The ACLU is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatives and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the constitution and laws of the United States."(From: ACLU web site)

Campaign to End the Death Penalty
The Campaign to End the Death Penalty was founded in 1995 and now has many chapters across the country. All of these chapters stress grassroots organizing, regularly organizing to win support for prisoners currently on death row. The Campaign is based on the idea that everyone who opposes capital punishment needs to come together to organize meetings, petitioning, pickets and protests to stop the death penalty. This site contains a five-part series about the failure of the death penalty in Illinois based on research of the 285 death penalty cases tried in Illinois since the reinstatement of capital punishment back in 1976 which was published by the Chicago Tribune in November 1999.

Equal Justice USA
This web site includes over 1200 groups listed by city councils, states, national, and international organizations calling for a moratorium on executions. The list was compiled by Quixote Center, an international justice and peace center.

Death Penalty in the U.S.(1976 - 2005)
This is a web site by the Prosecuting Attorney of Clark County, Indiana. It is a collection of hundreds of links to Pro and Con organizations, general reference, directories and other topics.

Death Penalty Information Center
Works to educate the public about the death penalty in America, primarily through the media. Examines problems that affect the death penalty including: poverty and mental deficiency of defendants; racism; ineffective legal representation.

Justice For All
Justice For All shall act as an advocate for change in a criminal justice system that is inadequate in protecting the lives and property of law abiding citizens. JUSTICE FOR ALL is an all-volunteer, Not-For-Profit organization founded in July 1993.

National Center for Policy Analysis
The Center is an independent, nonprofit organization, founded in 1983. The Research topics and fields are: Public policy issues, including studies on taxation, health care, social security, environment, privatization, welfare, education, crime, and pensions in America.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Since its inception in 1976, NCADP has been the only fully staffed national organization exclusively devoted to abolishing capital punishment. NCADP provides information, advocates for public policy, and mobilizes and supports individuals and institutions that share our unconditional rejection of capital punishment.(from: NCADP web site)

National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence
After reading Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, the Attorney General directed the National Institute of Justice to establish and administer a commission. The purpose of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence was to provide the Attorney General with recommendations on the use of current and future DNA methods, applications and technologies in the operation of the criminal justice system, from the crime scene to the courtroom. The Commission held its first meeting on March 18, 1998.

Pro Death-Penalty
This site is being developed as a resource for those searching the internet for pro-death penalty information and resources.


Cornell University. Legal Information Institute
This webpage shows an overview on death penalty. Federal materials as Constitution and Statutes, Federal Judicial Decisions, State Statutes, State Judicial Decisions, key internet sources and the Cornell Law School Death Penalty Project are contained.

Michigan State University. Death Penalty Information Center
Michigan State University maps detailing states that allow capital punishment of juveniles and the mentally retarded, and a map indicating states with a law for "life without parole" sentences.

St. Ambrose University. O'Keefe Library
Collection of topical URLs

University of Alaska, Anchorage. Justice Center
"The purpose of this site is to provide Alaska citizens and other members of the public with a source of information on the death penalty so that they can make informed decisions on this important issue. It is not intended to take sides in the debate on the death penalty. Rather,its purpose is to give as full a picture as possible, using existing Internet resources, of the complex issues surrounding capital punishment and its application."(from Website: University of Alaska.Focus on Death Penalty)

University of Tennessee at Martin.
Pro and Cons on Capital Punishment from philosophical perspectives, explained in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy of the University of Tennessee.


High Court Re-Examine Death Penalty Ruling. By Vanessa St. Gerard.
In: Corrections Today, vol. 66, no. 1, February 2004, p. 15.

The Death Penalty Strange Career. By Stuart Banner.
In: Wilson Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 2, Spring 2002, pp. 70-82.
Last year, 66 convicted murderers were executed in the United States, and several thousand still sit on death row. Yet 30 years ago, with public support for capital punishment seemingly on the wane, the Supreme Court ruled every death penalty statute in the land unconstitutional. Today most states have death penalty laws, and the public strongly supports them. What happened? Stuart Banner, professor of law at Washington University, details the paradoxical developments of the past three decades.

The Death Penalty and Deterrence. By Rubin, Paul H.
In: Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 82, no. 1, Winter 2002, pp. 10-12.
The question of deterrence, says Professor Rubin, has long been at the forefront of the debate on capital punishment. After analyzing the subject in a number of case studies, he writes that each execution led to a significant reduction in the number of homicides, and it was likely that each actually deterred an even larger number. Rubin argues that the existence of a significant deterrent effect does not prove that capital punishment is good or socially desirable, but it does indicate that if it is decided not to execute murderers, that decision will lead to many additional murders in society

Rethinking the Death Penalty: Are the Growing Doubts Justified? By Kenneth Jost.
In: CQ Researcher. November 16, 2001. pp. 945 - 967.
Most Americans still favor the death penalty, but support has declined in the past five years. Critics point to documented attacks on the reliability and fairness of court procedures in capital cases. They claim too many death sentences are reversed on appeal and that flaws in the system, including inadequate defense counsels, create an unacceptable risk of executing an innocent person. Supporters of capital punishment say legal safeguards are adequate and that no innocent person has been put to death in recent years. The changing climate can be seen in the enactment of state laws to limit the death penalty and in cases before the Supreme Court, which is set to decide whether it is unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded offenders.

A Talk with Governor George Ryan. Bruce Shapiro.
In: The Nation. January 8 - 15, 2001, p.17.
The author portrayed Governor George Ryan who issued in the beginning of 2000 an open-ended moratorium on executions in Illinois. Full text

West's Encyclopedia of American Law. Vol. 2, Minneapolis, Saint Paul pp. 216 - 220.
Chapter Capital Punishment

The Death Penalty. The American Citizen's Guide the Understanding Federal and State Laws. By Louis J. Palmer, Jefferson, N.C., 1998, 285 p.

Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment. By Mark Grossman, Santa Barbara, CA, 1998.

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