Every year, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) releases its Year-End Report examining the number of executions, new death sentences, and political developments surrounding capital punishment.
This year, those numbers took on an even greater significance as they were informed by that of another death toll in the nation, the coronavirus.
We as a people have been surrounded by death this year, a traumatic, community experience that is sure to mark our consciousness and impact our way of life for years to come.
In the midst of tragedy, we have seen the government take many actions that have compounded a problem and created unnecessary death and financial destruction —miscommunications, lockdowns, and the resumption of the federal death penalty all among them.
Prior to 2020, there had not been a federal execution in 17 years.
Over that period, support for and usage of the death penalty has been plunging across the nation. Resuming executions was an unusual and frankly bizarre decision in and of itself, but it went much further than that.
For the first time in our nation’s history, the federal government executed more people than all of the states combined.
All in all, with President Trump in office, more people have been killed over the past six months than the past 65 years’ worth of presidents combined. Trump is the first president since Grover Cleveland (in the 1800’s) to carry out executions after being voted out of office.
The rest of the nation did not follow his lead.
In fact, DPIC’S report found that there were just 17 executions in 2020, despite the resumption of federal executions — marking the sixth year in a row numbers have been held to historic lows (below 30). New death sentences were also at a record low with only 18 (in some part thanks to the pandemic shutting down courts).
And there were other encouraging trends as well.
Colorado repealed its death penalty.
A total of 34 U.S. states have now abolished the death penalty, enforced a moratorium, or not held an execution in a decade or more.
The vast majority of states have realized what the rest of the western world knew years ago: the death penalty is a waste of our resources, a failed public policy, and a relic of the past that kills innocent people and fails to make our communities safer.
On top of that, reform-minded prosecutors did swimmingly in their elections this year. Several counties with high death penalty usage rates replaced their district attorneys (who have almost unilateral control in deciding which cases to pursue death sentences for), namely Los Angeles, Travis (Austin, Texas), Orange-Osceola (Orlando, Florida), Franklin (Columbus, Ohio), and Pima Counties (Tucson, Arizona).
Increasingly, use of the death penalty is regionally isolated. Only five states held an execution this year; four of them were in the Bible-belt South.
A Gallup poll found that public support for capital punishment is rapidly diminishing.
Opposition to the sentence is at its highest level since the 1960’s (shortly before it was halted briefly by the U.S. Supreme Court).
In keeping with previous trends, all 17 people executed this year had one or more significant mental or emotional impairments (severe mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, or a history of chronic and significant trauma), or was under the age of 21 when the crime was committed.
Many of these executions saw victims’ family members, corrections officials, former jurors, and even former prosecutors in the cases speak out in favor of clemency.
But their appeals fell on deaf ears.
One of those executed was denied exculpatory DNA testing, and several were executed for crimes where their co-defendants received lesser sentences, despite sharing greater culpability for the act.
Those given new death sentences this year included 20% who waived their key procedural rights, including their right to counsel and/or a jury trial (a consistent indicator of psychosis and severe mental illness).
Three have strenuously proclaimed their innocence.
Speaking of innocence, five prisoners were exonerated from death row in 2020.
These men spent between 14 and 37 years behind bars, awaiting execution and working to prove their innocence. Three of them faced multiple trials, most notably Curtis Flowers, who was tried and convicted an astonishing six times in Mississippi by a district attorney who became infamous for his prosecutorial misconduct.
It has been a year of systemic government failure.
The reasons we as conservatives have long advocated for a limited government have been on full display. Revolts against systemic racism, police brutality, civil rights violations, and lockdowns have sprung up across this nation as our citizens rise up to demand the equal rights and liberties upon which our country was predicated.
Increasingly, one would be hard pressed to find a person willing to advocate on behalf of this corrupt, inept system to have the power over life and death. Politicians have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt they are not deserving of such power.
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. Read Hannah Cox's Reports — More Here.
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