Capital Punishment 2007 and 2008

Capital Punishment 2007 and 2008

"Capital Punishment 2007 and 2008" by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 25(4): 1, 12 (Winter 2009). This article assembles Bureau of Justice Statistics figures on capital punishment in the United States. In 2007, 10 states executed 42 prisoners, 3,2000 peope were under sentence of death in state and federal prisons, and all but 14 states retained the death penalty in their laws. In 2008, 37 people were executed.

According to figures compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 10 states executed 42 prisoners in 2007. Of those executed in 2007, 28 were white and 14 were black. All were men. In 2008, according to figures also released by BJS, 37 people were executed-all were men. Of these individuals, 20 were white and 17 were black.

Figure 1. Persona Executed in the U.S. Under Civil Authority, by Race, 1930-2008

BJS also reports that, at the end of 2007, 3,200 prisoners were under sentence of death in state and federal prisons in the country as a whole, with the highest number of prisoners on death row in California (655), Florida (389), Texas (372), and Pennsylvania (221). However, the number of prisoners under sentence of death decreased for the seventh consecutive year in 2007. Thirty-seven states and the federal government provided for the death penalty for certain offenses (Table 1). New Jersey enacted legislation repealing the death penalty effective December 17, 2007, and nine states revised statutory provisions relating to the death penalty that same year. (In 2009, New Mexico repealed the death penalty effective July 1, 2009.) Of states with the death penalty, 36 provided for automatic review of all death sentences. The federal government did not provide for automatic review of death sentences.

From 1977 through 2007, 1,099 persons were executed in the Unites States, with the highest number of executions occurring in Texas-405, and the second highest in Virginia-98. For the prisoners executed from 1977 to 2007, the average time between imposition of sentence and execution was more than 10 years. Between 1973 and 2005 (the latest figures available), higher courts overturned 784 convictions and 1,406 sentences in death penalty cases. These figures amount to 29 percent of death sentences from 1973 to 2005. BJS does not provide details or figures on the bases for the overturns.

In its annual review of capital punishment figures for the nation, BJS does not present figures on the cost of the death penalty process nor does it look at figures on legal representation of defendants in capital cases. Other BJS figures, however, provide some idea of the legal representation picture. The most recent figures on counsel in criminal cases are from 1996 and 1997. Fifty-six percent of defendants in homicide cases (which are the most common capital cases) in 1996 had state-appointed counsel; close to 40 percent used private counsel; 2.5 percent used a combination; and 2.5 percent of defendants represented themselves. Of inmates confined in 1997 for homicide convictions in state prisons, 67 percent were represented by appointed counsel, while 76 percent in federal prisons were represented by appointed counsel.

Further statistics on capital punishment in the United States can be found at the Bureau of Justice Statistics website, http://www.ojp.gov/bjs/cp.htm.

Table 1. Status of the Death Penalty, December 31, 2007
Table 2. Persons Under Sentence of Death in the U.S., 1997 and 2007
Table 3. Criminal HIstory Profile of Prisoners under Sentence of Death, by Race and Hispanic Origin, 2007
Table 4. Age of Prisoners Under Sentence of Death, Yearend 2007