Death Death Death (2022)
The Gallup crime survey, administered in the midst of the midterm elections while the capital trial for the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida was underway, found that support for capital punishment remained within one percentage point of the half-century lows recorded in 2020 and 2021. The 20 new death sentences imposed in 2022 are fewer than in any year before the pandemic, and just 2 higher than the record lows of the prior two years. With the exception of the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, the 18 executions in 2022 are the fewest since 1991.
Death Death Death (2022)
As the United States marked 50 years of the modern death penalty system, the arbitrariness and unreliability that led the Furmancourt to strike down capital punishment persist. As the systemic flaws of the death penalty have become clearer and more pronounced, it is being regularly employed by just a handful of outlier jurisdictions that pursue death sentences and executions with little regard for human rights concerns, transparency, fairness, or even their own ability to successfully carry it out.
Death penalty developments reflected the split between the growing number of states that have abandoned the use of capital punishment in law or practice and the extreme conduct of a small number of outlier states and counties that are attempting to carry out executions. At both the state and federal level, legislators grappled with the racial injustice in the criminal legal system. Two states took action to address questions of mental health and the death penalty. Meanwhile, three states took action to avoid public oversight of executions, and a fourth undertook an unprecedented spree of executions.
Our analysis of the data confirmed the increasing geographic arbitrariness of the U.S. death penalty and that it is disproportionately carried out in a small number of states and counties characterized by outlier practices and lack of meaningful judicial process. Fewer than 2.4% of all counties in the U.S. (just 75 counties) accounted for half of all death sentences imposed in state courts since 1972.
Outlier practices disproportionately contributed to death sentences and executions. Counties in Alabama and Florida, which authorized non-unanimous death sentences, imposed more death sentences and had higher per capita death-sentencing rates and current death-row populations than other counties of similar size. States with the highest execution rates also tended to have the worst access to meaningful judicial review. More than 100 people were executed in Texas after U.S. Supreme Court case precedent had already established the unconstitutionality of their death sentences. 36.4% of all Florida executions, or 1 in every 2.75 executions, came despite U.S. Supreme Court decisions clearly establishing the unconstitutionality of their death sentences.
Our prosecutorial accountability project, the first results of which were also released on the 50th anniversary of Furman, found that official misconduct is rampant in death penalty cases. Our research, which is still ongoing, identified more than 550 cases in which a capital conviction or death sentence was overturned or a death-row prisoner was exonerated as a result of prosecutorial misconduct. That means that at least 5.6% of all death sentences that have been imposed in the United States since 1972 have been reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct or resulted in a misconduct-related exoneration.
Death sentences and executions have both fallen dramatically from their peak usage in the 1990s. Death sentences in 2022 were 93.7% below the peak of 315 in 1996. Executions have dropped by 82% since their peak of 98 in 1999. The number of people on death row across the country also declined for the 21st consecutive year, with resentencings to life or less again outpacing the number of new death sentences. As of April 1, there were 2,414 people on death row.
DPIC also added two California cases to its Exoneration List: Eugene Allen, who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a prison guard in 1976 and acquitted on retrial in 1981; and Barry Williams, wrongfully convicted in 1986 and exonerated in 2021 of an allegedly gang-related street shooting in Los Angeles. Official misconduct was present in both of their cases.
All four exonerees are people of color: Randolph, Allen, and Williams are Black; Mulero is Latina. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. death-row exonerees have been people of color (123 of 190, 64.7%). 54.2% percent are Black; 8.9% are Latinx.
The case of terminally ill death-row prisoner Gerald Pizzuto Jr., put the Idaho governor and pardons board at odds, forcing the state supreme court to intervene in the matter. Pizzuto, who experienced a traumatic childhood characterized by chronic severe physical and sexual abuse, suffers from late-stage bladder cancer, chronic heart and coronary artery disease, coronary obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and Type 2 diabetes with related nerve damage to his legs and feet. In December 2021, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole voted 4-3 to recommend clemency for Pizzuto. The following day, Governor Brad Little rejected the recommendation, leading to a legal battle over his constitutional authority to do so.
After decades of litigation, Tennessee death-row prisoner Pervis Payne, who has long maintained his innocence, was found to be ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability and in January 2022 was resentenced to two concurrent life sentences. Payne, who has been in prison for 34 years, will be eligible to apply for parole in five years. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, who had opposed DNA testing of evidence Payne said could prove his innocence and had fought granting him a hearing to prove his ineligibility for the death penalty, later conceded that he was intellectually disabled. However, she argued to the court that he should be resentenced to two consecutive life sentences, effectively condemning him to death in prison.
International bodies have routinely encouraged the suspension and abolition of death sentences for those with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, as noted by both the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Although the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case Atkins v. Virginia established the unconstitutionality of executing people with intellectual disability, many states, including Tennessee, have been slow to implement the exemption retroactively. Scheduled for execution in December 2020, Payne received a reprieve because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tennessee legislature subsequently passed new legislation that went into effect in May 2021 that allowed Payne, whose IQ scores place him within the intellectually disabled range, to petition the court to vacate his death sentence.
Prosecutors campaigning on a commitment to criminal legal system reform were elected in several counties that have previously produced a disproportionate amount of death sentences and executions. These victories occurred despite consistent messaging targeted at fear of violent crime and political attacks against some sitting reform prosecutors.
Mulroy and Behenna have not pledged to never seek the death penalty but are replacing aggressively pro-capital punishment prosecutors in counties that have been disproportionate drivers of death sentencing.
Twenty death sentences were imposed in 2022, two more than the record lows in the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, but fewer by far than in any pre-pandemic year in the modern era of the death penalty. Death verdicts were concentrated in historically high-sentencing states, although four states imposed their first death sentences since the beginning of the pandemic. Life sentences in the Parkland school shooting case and other significant multi-victim cases demonstrated the disproportionality of many of the death sentences imposed in 2022. Those death sentences also disproportionally involved cases with the most vulnerable defendants or the greatest defects in legal process.
The 2022 death sentences included at least four defendants who experienced mental health issues resulting from chronic exposure to childhood trauma, two who were permitted to waive important trial rights and then asked for the death penalty, one with brain damage exacerbated by chemical dependence and substance abuse disorder, one with an IQ in the intellectually disabled range who had a one-day sentencing trial, and one military veteran. One prisoner, Ricky Dubose in Georgia, died by suicide ten days after being sentenced to death. Seven death sentences were imposed in cases in which law enforcement or corrections officers were victims, including the first Sikh deputy in Texas.
William Roberts was sentenced to death in Lake County, Florida after also volunteering for the death penalty. Roberts waived a jury trial, tried to represent himself in court, refused to attend parts of the trial, would not permit his counsel to present mitigating evidence, and asked the judge to sentence him to death.
Eleven death sentences (55%) were imposed on defendants of color. Eight Black defendants and three Latino defendants were sentenced to death. Most cases involved defendants and victims of the same race, but one Black defendant was sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman and one white defendant was sentenced to death for the murder of his biracial daughter. At least four cases involved multiple victims of different races.
As pandemic restrictions eased and courts began to re-open, five states imposed their first death sentences since the start of the pandemic: Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
In 2022, the Court denied everyapplication for a stay of execution filed by a death-row prisoner and intervenedin multiple cases to vacate stays of execution or injunctions issued by thelower federal courts. 041b061a72