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Quick Facts
Is the Death Penalty Legal in the United States?
After being suspended in 1972 because of a lack of national standards, the death penalty was declared constitutional (legal) again in 1976 with the provision that rigid statutes be used as a guide. Each state determines whether to permit the sentence of the death penalty. Thirty-six states currently have the death penalty. New Jersey became the first state in 40 years to abolish the death penalty in 2007. (DPIC)
Is it legal to execute juveniles or the mentally ill in the United States?
The Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for juveniles in 2005 and declared it illegal to execute defendants with mental retardation in 2002. (DPIC)
Is the Supreme Court currently considering the legality of the death penalty?
No, the Supreme Court is currently considering a very specific issue of whether the "3-drug cocktail" method of lethal injection constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" and would thus be unconstitutional. The Court held a hearing in January 2008 and is expected to make a ruling in spring 2008. (DPIC)
What is a moratorium?
A moratorium is a halt on executions for a certain time period. During a moratorium, detailed examinations of capital punishment laws and processes can take place. In a 2007 opinion poll by RT Strategies, 58% of respondents believed it was time for a moratorium on the death penalty, many of those supporting a moratorium also being supporters of the death penalty. (DPIC)
Death Row Executions
How many inmates are on Death Row?
In 2008 there are 3,263 inmates on Death Row, with the largest rows in California (609), Florida (388) and Texas (370). (DPIC)
How many people have been executed in the United States?
There have been 1,099 executions in the US since 1976, with a peak in 1999 of 98 executions. The largest number of executions since 1976, 405, took place in Texas, with 26 of those occurring in 2007. (DPIC)
What countries are responsible for the most executions worldwide?
In 2006 91% of all known executions took place in six countries: China (1,010), Iran (177), Pakistan (82), Iraq (65+), Sudan (65+), U.S. (53). American and Japan are the only post-industrial nations that impose the death penalty. (DPIC)
Don't most people in the U.S. support the Death Penalty?
The percentage of Americans in support of the death penalty peaked in the mid-1990s. According to Pew Research Center surveys, support for the death penalty for persons convicted of murder has fluctuated within a relatively narrow range of 62% of 68% since 2001, while opposition has ranged from 24% to 32% during this time. A Pew survey from August 2007 finds that 62% of Americans favor the death penalty, while 32% oppose it and 6% are unsure. (DPIC)
How much does the death penalty cost tax payers?
According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the estimated cost of single death penalty cases from arrest to execution ranges from $1 to $3 million, compared to an estimated cost of life imprisonment, including incarceration cost of $500,000. The estimated average cost of a death penalty case in TX, according to The Dallas Morning News is $2.3 million. (DPIC)
What methods of execution are currently used in the United States?
36 of the states with the death penalty use lethal injection for executions. In 2008 Nebraska, the only state that used the electric chair as the exclusive form of execution, outlawed the use of the electric chair. Some states utilizing lethal injection have other methods available as back-ups. (DPIC)
What is the "3-drug cocktail"?
A form of execution by lethal injection that involves three separate injections. The inmate is injected with sodium thiopental – an anesthetic, which puts the inmate to sleep. Next flows pavulon or pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the entire muscle system and stops the inmate's breathing. Finally, the flow of potassium chloride stops the heart. Death results from anesthetic overdose and respiratory and cardiac arrest while the condemned person is unconscious. (DPIC)
Wrongful Convictions and Exonerations
How many people have been released from death row?
Since 1973 over 120 people were released from death row with evidence of their innocence. From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000- 2007, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year. (DPIC)
Are those who have been freed from death row "actually innocent?"
It is virtually impossible to prove beyond al doubt that someone did not play a role in a particular crime and the defendant has no burden to innocence; rather it is the job of the prosecution to prove guilt. When a death row inmate's conviction has been overturned prosecutors usually have the opportunity to retry the defendant. If the defendant is acquitted at a re-trial, or if the prosecution decides to drop all charges, then the defendant is freed. (DPIC)
Is there any proof that an innocent person has been executed?
Until now, no "uncontroverted proof" of actual innocence had been established. The Last Word proves beyond any doubt (with admissions from the actual killer) that an innocent man has been executed for a crime he didn't commit!
Has DNA evidence eliminated the possibility of convicting the wrong person?
While DNA evidence has been used to exonerate several death row inmates, it is not a means to ensure that there are no wrongful convictions. For DNA evidence to be used it must first be found. According to the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, a very small percent of criminal cases use DNA evidence. For those cases that do have DNA evidence, it must be properly documented, collected, packaged and preserved, otherwise contamination can occur, making the DNA evidence unusable. After a 2003 audit of the DNA lab in Houston, Texas, 525 cases (including 17 death penalty cases) had to be reexamined because of improperly handled evidence. The audit found "significant deficiencies." (DPIC, CNN: Law Center)
Do Americans believe those killed are guilty?
Three-quarters of Americans believe that an innocent person has been executed within recent years and that convictions is resulting in lower levels of support for the death penalty, according to a 2005 study by the University of Cincinnati and Radford University. When life in prison without the possibility of parole was offered as an alternative sentence for capital murder, less than half of all Americans who believe an innocent person has been executed supported the death penalty.
Do most Christians support the death penalty?
Some of the most recent data focusing on religion and the death penalty has looked at the views of Christians, a group that comprises over three quarters of the American population. According to a 2004 Gallop Poll, individuals who self-identify as Protestants are somewhat more likely to endorse capital punishment that are Catholics and far more likely than those with no religious preference. The poll found that more than 7 of 10 Protestants (71%) support the death penalty, while 66% of Catholics support it and that 57% of those with no religious preference favor the death penalty for murder. A 2005 Zogby poll revealed that only 48% of Catholics now support the death penalty. A recent poll by NationalChristianPoll.com found that two thirds of active Christians who oppose the death penalty are concerned about judicial error that could lead to an innocent person being executed. The poll also found that of Christians who support the death penalty, 60% do so because of biblical teachings. According to a 2007 Pew Forum poll, the strongest supporters of the death penalty are white evangelicals, with 74% approval.
What are the official stances of religious organizations on the death penalty?
According to the American Friends Service Committee's Criminal Justice Program, which maintains a list of faith and ethical group that are opposed to the death penalty, many groups are officially opposed to capital punishment, including American Baptists, American Ethical Union, American Friends Service Committee, America Jewish Committee, The Bruderhof Communities, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Church Women United, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends United Meeting, General Conference of General Baptists, General Conference of Mennonite Church, Mennonite Church, Moravian Church in America, Orthodox Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Rabbinical Assembly, Reformed Church in America, Reorganized Church, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and the United States Catholic Conference. The Southern Baptists and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have not taken a public position on the issue of capital punishment. The Qur'an supports the death penalty, but there is a strong tradition of mercy within the faith.

Jesse Quackenbush, Director
Jesse Quackenbush, Director
Tom Kane, Narrator
Tom Kane, Narrator
Kyle High, Editor
Kyle High, Editor
Peter Davison, Composer
Peter Davison, Composer