Number of executions continued to fall this year, but many were botched, report says

Public support for and use of the death penalty in 2022 continued its more than two-decade decline in the United States, and many executions that took place during the year were “botched” or highly problematic , according to an annual report on capital punishment.

There were 18 executions in the United States in 2022, the lowest number of any pre-pandemic year since 1991. There were 11 executions last year. Outside of the pandemic years, the 20 death sentences passed in 2022 were the lowest on record in the United States in half a century, according to the report by the Death Penalty Information Center based in Washington, DC.

“All indicators point to the death penalty continuing to decline and the move away from the death penalty to be sustainable,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit, which takes no position on the issue. capital punishment but criticized the way states carry out executions. .

In the United States, 37 states have abolished the death penalty or have not carried out any executions for more than a decade. Tuesday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown commuted the sentences of 17 state death row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Oregon last executed a prisoner in 1997. There have been no federal executions since January 2021 following a landmark use of capital punishment by the Trump administration. In July 2021, the The Ministry of Justice has imposed a moratorium on federal executions.

The report called 2022 “the year of the botched execution” because seven of 20 execution attempts in the United States were visibly problematic or took an inordinate amount of time. This has prompted some states to suspend them so that processes and protocols can be reviewed.

Significant problems were reported with the three Arizona executions as prison officers struggled to find suitable veins for IV lines to administer the lethal injection.

In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey last month ordered a ‘top-down’ review of the state’s capital punishment system after three failed lethal injections, including two in 2022 involving problems with IV lines. used to administer drugs.

Other concerns about the executions included a South Carolina judge’s ruling in September that found the state’s newly created firing squad unconstitutional, as well as its use of the electric chair. The state Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on the issue next month.

In April, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee halted lethal injections in his state because drugs used in executions had not been tested. The oversight had forced Lee to abruptly halt plans for the execution of inmate Oscar Smith an hour before his death last April.

Dunham said he believes continuing problems with botched executions or revisions to execution protocols by states are helping to erode public support for capital punishment. A Gallup poll shows that public support for the death penalty has fallen steadily over the past 28 years, from 80% in 1994 to 55% this year.

“There are very few states that attempt to apply the death penalty. But they act in a way that … their conduct undermines public confidence that states can be given the death penalty” , Dunham said.

While five of the 18 executions that have taken place in 2022 have taken place in Texas, that’s well below what the nation’s busiest capital punishment state has historically seen. In 2000, executions in Texas peaked at 40, according to that year’s annual report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Kristin Houlé Cuellar, the coalition’s executive director, said she believes “the era of overuse of the death penalty in Texas is over” because prosecutors will continue to use long prison sentences instead. hold people accountable.

Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, said she was not surprised at the decline in use and public support for capital punishment. She cites as reasons: more people learning about the various issues involved in carrying out executions, doubts about whether it deters crime, and a growing number of inmate exonerations.

“Any kind of prediction about the future would suggest that the death penalty will be limited to a few states. Over time, there will be increasing pressure in those states to abolish the death penalty,” Denno said.

Dunham said he believed the number of botched executions contributed significantly to the movement among lawmakers, especially conservatives, to voice doubts about the death penalty.

In Oklahoma, GOP state Rep. Kevin McDugle, who describes himself as a supporter of the death penalty, has become one of the most outspoken advocates for death row inmates. Richard Glossip after concerns were raised about lost or destroyed evidence and police bias. Glossip’s execution was delayed last month.

In Texas, GOP state Rep. Jeff Leach helped lead a bipartisan group of lawmakers who believe new evidence shows a death row inmate. Melissa Lucio did not fatally beat his daughter. Leach and some of the lawmakers visited Lucio on death row before his execution was delayed in April.

In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this year, Leach said he hopes lawmakers can work to ensure “there’s no way we’ll execute an innocent Texan.”

“To say that I fight against the very existence of the death penalty in Texas would be a dramatic understatement,” Leach said.

Michael Benza, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said the changing political environment around the death penalty has made it easier for policymakers to have constructive discussions about capital punishment.

“And they struggle with that when they really look at what’s going on. I think politicians wonder if that’s actually the right thing to do,” Benza said.

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