While polls suggest that support for the death penalty has ebbed in the United States, five states have become the driving force behind capital punishment, accounting for 90 percent of the 122 executions carried out in the past three years, reports the Washington Post. Texas alone accounts for more than one-third of executions. Florida, Georgia and Missouri each account for about 1 in 7 executions, and Oklahoma accounts for about 1 in 12. The other 45 states collectively account for only 10 percent of prisoner executions, even though the law in 30 of those states allows capital punishment.
What motivates these outliers? All five are politically conservative states within or bordering the South. Yet a number of states with similar political demographics–Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee, for example–have executed no one in recent years. Stanford Law School Professor Robert Weisberg points to state-specific processes and incentives as drivers of the death penalty in a subset of conservative states. He says, “Texas has elected judges. It is also located in the prosecutor-friendly 5th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. Although the Supreme Court occasionally slaps down the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and its federal accomplice, the Fifth Circuit, for allowing egregiously unfair capital trials, on the whole those lower courts have been happy to give Texas prosecutors a generously wide berth.”