I love the end of the year. It’s a perfect time to sit back and contemplate all that’s taken place and to imagine what things will look like a year from now. Oftentimes we don’t realize just how much has changed in a year. That can be bittersweet, but it can also be empowering.
In my work, the gains come slowly, and persistence is key. But an excellent way of measuring our impact is through the Death Penalty Information Center’s Year-End Report, which examines trends in capital punishment in the U.S.
The year flew by in a whirlwind of testimonies, clemency appeals, articles, and speeches, and — as the report shows — those winds continued to knock down the death penalty.
Two more states took massive action against the death penalty this year.
New Hampshire repealed its system outright through the legislature, the 21st to wipe capital punishment off its books.
Meanwhile, California is now the fourth state — and the biggest — to have an executive moratorium.
That means that 32 states now have either no death penalty or they haven’t executed anyone in over ten years. The few outlier states still actively operating this system are heavily concentrated in the Deep South, commonly referred to as the “Bible Belt.”
Nine other states had Republican-sponsored bills to end the death penalty in 2019 — one of which very nearly passed in Wyoming.
Not only that, but new death sentences and executions remain at historic lows for the fifth year in a row, backing up a recent Gallup poll that found 60% of Americans now support life in prison without parole over the death penalty.
Two more names were added to the disgustingly long list of death row exonerations this year. Both of those people served over 40 years for crimes they did not commit but thankfully were spared before it was too late.
Others were not so lucky. Ray Cromartie in Georgia, Dominique Ray in Alabama, and Larry Swearingen in Texas were executed this year. Each had significant innocence claims that their respective states refused to examine.
James Dailey in Florida and Rodney Reed in Texas have been temporarily spared execution but are still fighting to have evidence tested that could prove their innocence. It’s hard to remember a year with so many potentially innocent people either executed or slated for death by the state.
Of the 22 executions the country did carry out this year, not one of them was without significant problems.
Far from executing the “worst of the worst” (whatever that means — are some murders worse than others?), the states instead executed people with severe mental illnesses and traumatic brain injuries, intellectually disabled people (that’s not supposed to happen anymore but it does), and individuals who themselves were victims of chronic abuse and trauma.
Lastly, fewer than one percent of all U.S. counties imposed death sentences this year, and only two counties in the entire nation imposed more than one.
Riverside, in California, and Cuyahoga, in Ohio, might want to do some digging into just how much their local district attorneys are wasting on death penalty cases. Research suggests that each case can run millions more than non-capital cases, without providing any deterrent effect or meaningful impact on the crime rate.
We’re running the death penalty down. Considering the ground we gained in 2019 and the rest of the decade, the 2020’s should officially be on notice. This won’t stand.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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