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Q: Capital Punishment in the U.S. ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Capital Punishment in the U.S.
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: leokola-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 13 Aug 2003 11:36 PDT
Expires: 12 Sep 2003 11:36 PDT
Question ID: 244308
Of death-eligible cases that go to trial, juries impose the death
sentence what percentage of the time? I'm interested in data from the
1990s or even early 2000s. It would be helpful to compare a high year
to a low year.  [This year, I know the number declined from previous
years.] (for a book on the death penalty) There are researchers at
Northeastern Univ. who have been studying juries, headed by Prof.
William Bower, if this helps.
Subject: Re: Capital Punishment in the U.S.
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 13 Aug 2003 13:10 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Regarding the percentage of death-eligible cases that result in the
imposition of a death sentence, I've found your answer in this excerpt
from an article originally published in 1999 in "The Economist"

"When probed, the American public's support for the death penalty
appears wide, but not very deep. Although 70-80% of Americans
regularly tell pollsters they favour capital punishment, few actually
apply it when given the chance. Juries impose the death penalty in
only about 10% of capital cases, and this despite the fact that
American capital juries are always 'death qualified' - meaning that
death-penalty opponents are barred from hearing the case."

The University of California, San Diego: Department of Psychology

The introduction of a "life without parole" option is one factor that
has caused juries to be less likely to impose a death sentence:

"In the midst of a noisy debate over capital punishment in the United
States, a quiet change may have settled in: The number of new death
penalty sentences being imposed each year has dropped by nearly 1/2...
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, an average of 296
people were added to death row each year from 1994 to 2000. The actual
number of new death sentences in 2000 was 226, well below the average,
and the beginning of a decline. The number fell to 155 in 2001, the
lowest recorded since 1973... cases where the death penalty is sought
are more likely to get a life sentence now... 36 of the 38 states
which have death penalty laws also have life no-parole statutes"

Fight the Death Penalty in USA

Here is an interesting article concerning the imposition of the death
penalty in federal trials (the article was originally printed in the
New York Times in June 2003):

"Federal prosecutors failed to persuade juries to impose the death
penalty in 15 of the last 16 trials in which they sought it, says the
Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, which assists lawyers
defending federal capital cases.

Legal experts say the trend might have a number of explanations, like
overreaching by prosecutors and some jurors' growing unease with the
death penalty.

The rate at which juries rejected the death penalty in the federal
trials, over about the last year, is sharply higher than in earlier
years in the federal system and in current state prosecutions, Justice
Department records and lawyers around the country say."


You may find these sites useful in gathering data for your book:

Death Penalty Information Center

Bureau of Justice Statistics: Capital Punishment Statistics

Search terms used:

"juries impose the death penalty"
"juries impose a death sentence"
"juries impose death sentences"
"death-qualified juries"
"capital cases" + "juries"

I hope this information is helpful. If anything is unclear, or if a
link does not function, please request clarification; I'll be glad to
offer further assistance before you rate my answer.

Best regards,

Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 13 Aug 2003 13:32 PDT
My friend and colleague tehuti-ga has sent me this additional

"A small number of first degree murderers are sentenced to death and
only a small proportion of those sentenced to death are actually
executed. In 1990, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates there were
10,895 murder convictions with 265 prisoners admitted to death row in
that year. Of all defendants convicted on a charge of criminal
homicide, only about 2.5 percent are eventually sentenced to death.
Few prisoners on death row actually are executed. From January 1, 1977
to December 31, 1993, 266 executions have been carried out. In the
same period, 1,789 inmates have been removed from death row as a
result of dispositions other than execution."


It should be noted that the figure of 2.5% refers to all defendants
convicted of criminal homicide, not only to those convicted of capital
crimes. Presumably these statistics also include sentences imposed by
judges rather than by juries.

leokola-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
This is just the kind of info I wanted that I can quote in my chapter.  Thanks!

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