|Almanac of Policy
Home : Policy Archive : Search
Questia: Search over 400,000 books and journals at Questia online.
FastWeb Free Scholarship Search: Find free money for college or an advanced degree.
Adapted from a report by Tracy L. Snell, Bureau
of Justice Statistics
Capital Punishment 2000
Fourteen States executed 85 prisoners during 2000. The number executed was 13 fewer than in 1999. Those executed during 2000 had been under sentence of death an average of 11 years and 5 months, 6 months less than that for inmates executed in 1999.
At yearend 2000, 3,593 prisoners were under sentence of death. California held the largest number on death row (586), followed by Texas (450), Florida, (371), and Pennsylvania (238). Eighteen people were under a Federal death sentence.
During 2000, 27 States and the Federal prison system received 214 prisoners under sentence of death. Texas (34 admissions), California (31), Florida (20), North Carolina (18), and Pennsylvania (12) accounted for more than half of those sentenced in 2000.
During 2000, 83 men and 2 women were executed: 49 whites, 35 blacks, and 1 American Indian. The executed inmates included 6 Hispanics (all white). Eighty of the executions were carried out by lethal injection and 5 by electrocution.
From January 1, 1977, to December 31, 2000, 683 executions took place in 31 States. Sixty-five percent of the executions occurred in 5 States: Texas (239), Virginia (81), Florida (50), Missouri (46), and Oklahoma (30).
Capital punishment laws
At yearend 2000 the death penalty was authorized by 38 States and the Federal Government. During 2000 no State enacted new legislation authorizing capital punishment.
Statutory changes: During 2000, 5 States revised statutory provisions relating to the death penalty. Most of the changes involved additional aggravating circumstances and proce-dural amendments. By State, the changes were as follows: Colorado Added as an aggravating factor use of a weapon during a Class 1 felony when use of the weapon itself constituted a felony under State or Federal law (CRS 16-11-103( 5)( o)), effective 8/ 2/ 2000.
Florida - Authorized lethal injection as a method of execution, effective 1/ 14/ 2000. An inmate may elect in writing to be executed by electrocution within 30 days of the effective date or the date of sentence; if this option is waived, the method shall be lethal injection (FSA ' 922.105).
Georgia - Revised the penal code to allow for lethal injection as the method of execution for all inmates sentenced to death for crimes committed on or after May 1, 2000; those whose offenses occurred before that date shall be executed by electrocution, effective 5/ 1/ 2000 (O. C. G. A. 17-10-38).
Mississippi Revised the definition of capital murder to include among peace officers who were murder victims conservation officers (was previously called "game warden") (Miss. Code Ann ' 97-3-19( 2)( a)), effective 4/ 30/ 2000. Mississippi also amended the code of criminal procedure setting a time limit of 1 year within which a defendant must apply for post-conviction relief. Upon exhaustion of appeals or failure to file for post-conviction relief in the allotted time, any stays of execution will be vacated and an execution date will be set (Miss. Code Ann. ' 99-19-106), effective 7/ 1/ 2000.
New Jersey Revised the penal code to create a mandatory sentence to life without the possibility of parole or commutation for offenders convicted of a capital offense but not sentenced to death (NJSA 2C: 11-3b( 4)), effective 8/ 22/ 2000.
Automatic review: Of the 38 States with capital statutes at yearend, 37 provided for review of all death sentences regardless of the defendant's wishes. In South Carolina the defendant had the right to waive sentence review if he or she was deemed competent by the court (State v. Torrence, 473 S. E. 3d 703 (S. C. 1996)). Federal death penalty proce-dures did not provide for automatic review after a sentence of death had been imposed.
The State's highest appellate court usually conducted the review. If either the conviction or sentence were vacated, the case could be remanded to the trial court for additional proceed-ings or retrial. As a result of retrial or resentencing, a death sentence could be reimposed.
While most of the 37 States authorized an automatic review of both the convic-tion and sentence, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Tennessee required review of the sentence only. In Idaho review of the conviction had to be filed through appeal or forfeited. In Indiana and Kentucky a defendant could waive review of the conviction. In Virginia a defendant could waive an appeal of trial court error but could not waive review of the death sentence for arbitrariness and proportionality. In Mississippi the question of whether the defendant could waive the right to automatic review had not been addressed. In Wyoming neither statute nor case law precluded a waiver of appeal.
In Arkansas case law held that the supreme court review the trial court record for error in capital cases (State v. Robbins, 339 Ark. 379, 5 S. W. 3d 51 (1999)). Such a review is independent of a defendant's right to waive appeals.
Method of execution: As of December 31, 2000, lethal injection was the predominant method of execution (36 States). Eleven States authorized electrocution; 4 States, lethal gas; 3 States, hanging; and 3 States, firing squad. Eighteen States authorized more than 1 method lethal injection and an alternative method generally at the election of the condemned prisoner; however, 6 of these 18 stipulated which method must be used, depending on the date of sentencing; 1 authorized hanging only if lethal injection could not be given; and if lethal injection is ever ruled to be unconstitutional, 1 authorized lethal gas, and 1 authorized electrocution.
The Federal Government authorizes the method of execution under two different laws. Offenses prosecuted under 28 CFR, Part 26, mandate lethal injection, while those prosecuted under the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994 (18 U. S. C. 3596) call for the method of the State in which the conviction took place.
Minimum age In 2000 seven jurisdictions did not specify a minimum age for which the death penalty could be imposed. In some States the minimum age was set forth in the statutory provisions that determine the age at which a juvenile may be transferred to adult court for trial as an adult. Fourteen States and the Federal system required a minimum age of 18. Seventeen States indicated an age of eligibility between 14 and 17 or older. Age may be a mitigating factor for other capital crimes. e The minimum age defined by statute is 13, but the effective age is 16 based on interpretation of U. S. Supreme Court decisions by the Mississippi
Characteristics of prisoners under sentence of death at yearend 2000
Thirty-seven States and the Federal prison system held a total of 3,593 prisoners under sentence of death on December 31, 2000, an increase of 53, or 1.5% more than at the end of 1999. The Federal prison system count remained unchanged at 18. Three States reported 39% of the Nation's death row population: California (586), Texas (450), and Florida (371). Of the 39 jurisdictions authorizing the death penalty in 2000, New Hampshire had no one under a capital sentence, and Kansas, South Dakota, and Wyoming had 4 or fewer.
Among the 38 jurisdictions with prison-ers under sentence of death at yearend 2000, 20 had more inmates than a year earlier, 5 had fewer inmates, and 13 had the same number. California had an increase of 30, followed by North Carolina (13). Oklahoma and Texas had the largest decreases (12 and 10, respectively). During 2000 the number of white inmates under sentence of death rose by 30; the number of blacks increased by 20; and the number of persons of other races rose from 65 to 68. The number of Hispanics under sentence of death rose from 326 to 339 during 2000. Twenty-five Hispanics were received under sentence of death, 6 were removed from death row, and 6 were executed. Nearly three-quarters of the Hispanics were held in 3 States: California (114), Texas (101), and Florida (32).
During 2000 the number of women sentenced to be executed increased from 51 to 54. Eight women were received under sentence of death, 3 were removed from death row, and 2 were executed. Women were under sentence of death in 18 States. More than half of women on death row at yearend were in California, Texas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
Men were 98% (3,539) of all prisoners under sentence of death. Whites comprised 55%; blacks comprised 43%; and other races (1.9%) included 29 American Indians, 27 Asians, and 12 persons of unknown race. Among those for whom ethnicity was known, 11% were Hispanic.
Among inmates under sentence of death on December 31, 2000, for whom information on education was available, three-fourths had either completed high school (38%) or finished 9th, 10th, or 11th grade (37%). The percentage who had not gone beyond eighth grade (14%) was larger than that of inmates who had attended some college (10%). The median level of education was the 11th grade. Of inmates under a capital sentence and with reported marital status, more than half had never married; more than a fifth were married at the time of sentencing; and more than a fifth were divorced, separated, or widowed.
Among all inmates under sentence of death for whom date of arrest information was available, about half were age 20 to 29 at the time of arrest for their capital offense; 13% were age 19 or younger; and less than 1% were age 55 or older. The average age at time of arrest was 28 years. On December 31, 2000, 36% of all inmates were age 30 to 39, and 68% were age 25 to 44. The youngest offender under sentence of death was 18; the oldest was 85.
Entries and removals of persons under sentence of death
Between January 1 and December 31, 2000, 25 State prison systems reported receiving 212 prisoners under sentence of death; the Federal Bureau of Prisons received 2 inmates. More than half of the inmates were received in 5 States: Texas (34), California (31), Florida (20), North Carolina (18), and Pennsylvania (12). All 214 prisoners who were received under sentence of death had been convicted of murder. By gender and race, 115 were white men, 86 were black men, 1 was an American Indian man, 4 were Asian men, 7 were white women, and 1 was an American Indian woman. Of the 214 new admissions, 25 were Hispanic men. Twenty States and the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported a total of 58 persons whose sentence of death was overturned or removed. Appeals courts vacated 27 sentences while upholding the convictions and vacated 27 sentences while overturning the convictions. Florida (9 exits) had the largest number of vacated capital sentences. Maryland, North Carolina, and Arizona each reported one commutation of a death sentence. Illinois removed one inmate when an appellate court struck the capital sentence.
As of December 31, 2000, 30 of 58 persons who were formerly under sentence of death were serving a reduced sentence, 13 were awaiting a new trial, 5 were awaiting resentencing, 2 had all capital charges dropped, and 5 had no action taken after being removed from under sentence of death. No information was available on the current status of 3 inmates.
In addition, 18 persons died while under sentence of death in 2000. All of these deaths were from natural causes 2 each in Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, and Nevada, and 1 each in Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arizona.
From 1977, the year after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of revised State capital punishment laws, to 2000, a total of 6,208 persons entered prison under sentence of death. During these 24 years, 683 persons were executed, and 2,312 were removed from under a death sentence by appellate court decisions and reviews, commutations, or death. 1
Among individuals who received a death sentence between 1977 and 2000, 3,058 (49%) were white, 2,542 (41%) were black, 509 (8%) were Hispanic, and 99 (2%) were other races. The distribution by race and Hispanic origin of the 2,995 inmates who were removed from death row between 1977 and 2000 was as follows: 1,564 whites (52%), 1,202 blacks (40%), 185 Hispanics (6%), and 44 persons of other races (1%). Of the 683 who were executed, 377 (55%) were white, 246 (36%) were black, 49 (7%) were Hispanic, and 11 (2%) were of other races.
Criminal history of inmates under sentence of death in 2000
Among inmates under a death sentence on December 31, 2000, for whom criminal history information was available, 64% had prior felony convictions, including 8% with at least one previous homicide conviction.
Among those for whom legal status at the time of the capital offense was available, 39% had an active criminal justice status. Less than half of these were on parole, and a quarter were on probation. The remaining quarter had charges pending, were incarcerated, had escaped from incarceration, or had some other criminal justice status. Criminal history patterns differed by race and Hispanic origin. More blacks (68%) than whites (62%) or Hispanics (59%) had a prior felony conviction.
About the same percentage of whites, blacks, and Hispanics had a prior homicide conviction (8%). A slightly higher percentage of Hispanics (24%) or blacks (19%) than whites (15%) were on parole when arrested for their capital offense. Since 1988, data have been collected on the number of death sentences imposed on entering inmates. Among the 3, 678 individuals received under sentence of death during that time, about 1 in 7 entered with 2 or more death sentences.
According to data collected by the Federal Government, from 1930 to 2000, 4,542 persons were executed under civil authority. During this 24-year period, 5 States executed 446 prisoners: Texas (239), Virginia (81), Florida (50), Missouri (46), and Oklahoma (30). These States accounted for nearly two-thirds of all executions.
Between 1977 and 2000, 372 white non-Hispanic men, 246 black non-Hispanic men, 49 Hispanic men, 6 American Indian men, 5 Asian men, and 5 white non-Hispanic women were executed. During 2000 Texas carried out 40 executions, Oklahoma executed 11 persons; Virginia, 8; Florida, 6; Missouri, 5; Alabama, 4; Arizona, 3; Arkansas, 2; and Delaware, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and California, 1 each. The inmate executed in Tennessee was the first executed in that State since 1960. Eighty-three persons executed in 2000 were male and two were female. Forty-three were white; 35 were black; 6 were Hispanic; and 1 was American Indian.
From 1977 to 2000, 6,588 prisoners were under death sentences for varying lengths of time. The 683 executions accounted for 10% of those at risk. A total of 2,312 prisoners (35% of those at risk) were removed by means other than execution. About the same percentage of whites (12%), blacks (9%), and Hispanics (9%) were executed. Somewhat larger percent-ages of whites (37%) and blacks (35%) than Hispanics (26%) were removed from under a death sentence by means other than execution.
Among prisoners executed from 1977 to 2000, the average time spent between the imposition of the most recent sentence received and execu-tion was more than 10 years. White prisoners had spent an average of 9 years and 8 months, and black prisoners, 10 years and 8 months. The 85 prisoners executed in 2000 were under sentence of death an average of 11 years and 5 months. For the 683 prisoners executed between 1977 and 2000, the most common method of execution was lethal injection (518). Other methods were electrocution (149), lethal gas (11), hanging (3), and firing squad (2).
Among prisoners under sentence of death at yearend 2000, the average time spent in prison was 8 years, up 5 months from that of 1999. The median time between the imposition of a death sentence and yearend 2000 was 83 months. Overall, the average time for women was 6.1 years, 2 years less than that for men (8.1 years). On average, whites, blacks, and Hispanics had spent from 85 to 100 months under a sentence of death.
Capital punishment information is collected annually as part of the National Prisoner Statistics program (NPS-8). This data series is collected in two parts: data on persons under sentence of death are obtained from the department of corrections in each jurisdiction currently authorizing capital punishment; information on the status of death penalty statutes is obtained from the Office of the Attorney General in each of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the Federal Govern-ment. Data collection forms and more detailed tables are available in Correc-tional Populations in the United States, published annually. NPS-8 covers all persons under sentence of death at any time during the year who were held in a State or Federal nonmilitary correctional facility. Included are capital offenders transferred from prison to mental hospitals and those who may have escaped from custody. Excluded are persons whose death sentences have been overturned by the court, regardless of their current incarceration status.
The statistics reported in this Bulletin may differ from data collected by other organizations for a variety of reasons: (1) NPS-8 adds inmates to the popula-tion under sentence of death not at sentencing but at the time they are admitted to a State or Federal correc-tional facility; (2) If inmates entered prison under a death sentence or were reported as being relieved of a death sentence in one year but the court had acted in the previous year, the counts are adjusted to reflect the dates of court decisions; (3) NPS counts are always for the last day of the calendar year and will differ from counts for more recent periods. All data in this report have been reviewed for accuracy by the data providers in each jurisdiction prior to publication.
This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.