No one from Harris County, Texas, was executed in 2017–for the first time in more than 40 years. And no one has been sentenced to death for a crime committed there since 2014. Experts see those numbers as a reflection of declining American enthusiasm for capital punishment.
With executions and death sentences at near-historic low levels so far this year, the U.S. is witnessing a “long-term change in capital punishment,” according to a report released Thursday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
A Texas man condemned to death for a crime he didn’t commit was freed only after his attorney discovered a concealed phone record that proved his innocence. The attorney, Brian Stolarz, who wrote a book about the case, tells TCR that it’s an example of how capital punishment in the U.S. is hostage to a system that depends on whether you have enough money to pay for good legal help.
A pro-death penalty “punitive culture” in some federal jurisdictions ensures that poor defendants in capital punishment cases never get the quality of public defense they are entitled to, argues a study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. The authors say their findings help explain the stark racial disparities in the application of death sentences across the U.S.
Texas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Oklahoma have accounted for 90 percent of the 122 executions carried out in the U.S. over the past three years. One expert says criminal justice processes and incentives make those states capital punishment outliers.
Experts say a number of factors have prompted a steep decline in executions in the U.S. since the late 1990s, including challenges based on DNA evidence, litigation over the drugs used in executions, and increased use of life without parole as a sentencing option.
Next Monday, Arkansas is scheduled to begin executing seven men over an 11-day run as it races against the expiration date of its supply of midazolam, a controversial drug used in the execution process. In an analysis for the Washington Post, experts suggest that at least one of the executions will be botched.