National death penalty developments in 2018

On December 14, 2018, the Death Penalty Information Center released its 2018 year-end report, detailing death penalty developments across the nation. The report notes that 2018 marked the fourth consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions and less than 50 new death sentences. Other significant developments include:

  • Use of the death penalty remained at historic lows, with 25 executions and 42 death sentences. 14 states and the federal government imposed death sentences, with 57% of death sentences coming from just four states: Texas and Florida (7 each), California and Ohio (5 each). No county imposed more than two death sentences for the first time since 1972.
  • For the first time in 25 years, fewer than 2,500 people face active death sentences.
  • Two death-sentenced prisoners were exonerated in 2018, bringing the total number of death row exonerations to 164. Vicente Benavides Figueroa spent nearly 26 years on California’s death row; Clemente Javier Aguirre was the 28th death row prisoner exonerated in Florida. The death sentences of three other prisoners were commuted to life in prison.
  • The death penalty remains geographically isolated, with only eight states carrying out executions in 2018: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Although Texas accounted for more than half of all executions (13), there were fewer executions in the rest of the country than in any year since 1991.
  • Cases in which the death penalty was imposed or carried out continued to raise questions about the fairness of its application. More than 70% of those executed showed evidence of serious mental illness, brain damage, intellectual impairment, or chronic abuse/trauma. Four people were executed despite substantial innocence claims.
  • On October 11, Washington became the 20th state to abolish the death penalty when its Supreme Court unanimously ruled that capital punishment violates the state constitution because it “is imposed in a arbitrary and racially biased manner.”
  • Colorado elected a new governor, Jared Polis, who campaigned on repealing the death penalty.
  • Reform-minded prosecutors won elections in several counties with a history of aggressive use of the death penalty, including the district attorney races in Bexar and Dallas counties which are among the 2% of counties responsible for the most executions. Longtime incumbent DAs in Orange and San Bernardino counties in California, two of the nations most prolific producers of death sentences, were ousted.
  • A 2018 Gallup poll found that fewer than half (49%) of Americans now believe that the death penalty is applied fairly, the lowest level since Gallup began asking the question in 2000.

To read the full report, visit https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/YearEnd2018.