Public support of the death penalty has significantly waned, just in the past two years alone, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center. The Pew data shows that 55% of American adults supported the death penalty in 2013, a six-percent drop from 2011. Over the same two years, the opponents to the death penalty increased by the same amount, from 31% to 37%.
Not only has public support decreased, but so has the frequency at which people are executed in U.S. The number of executions has decreased dramatically since its peak in 1999 and is, in fact, practiced in only a handful of states and counties within those states. A great graphic from the Pew Research Center illustrates the highly concentrated nature of the administration of the death penalty.
Executions that have taken place since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 have occurred in 32 states, with just a handful of states accounting for the bulk of them. In fact, recent data from the Death Penalty Information Committee shows only 2% of the counties in the U.S. have been responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976. While public opinion is moving towards opposition to the death penalty and fewer states are actively engaging in executions, there seem a persistent minority of jurisdictions that are more than willing to pick up the slack.
The questions presented by these data are serious: Why is the death penalty, apparently, a practice limited to a minority of states — and even a minority of counties within those states? How unbiased is the criminal justice system if, presumably, the same crime can cause one person to spend their life in prison while another is put to death depending only on the state in which the crime occurred?
Sentencing practices in America must be consistent if they are to be considered just; the current trend of how and where the death penalty is administered is just one of the myriad challenges facing our criminal justice system. The factors that have caused these discrepancies must be investigated to ensure that the states that do administer the death penalty are administering it fairly and the rights of the convicted remain uniform throughout the country. While the fate of capital punishment in America is uncertain, states must stop at nothing to ensure that there is equal justice under the law. The Constitution Project’s Death Penalty committee’s forthcoming report suggests ways in which states can ensure that if they are to continue to use the death penalty, their administration of it is as free of errors as possible.