Long-Term Decline of Death Penalty in the U.S. Continued in 2018



In 2018, both executions and new death sentences remained near generational lows, and Washington became the 20th state to abolish capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2018 Year End Report.

Alabama was one of just eight states that carried out a total of 25 executions this year. The state’s two executions — of Michael Eggers on March 15 and Walter Moody on April 19 — represent a decline from 2017, when Alabama executed three people.

DPIC reports that the death penalty remained geographically isolated, with most executions carried out in a few Southern states. More than half (13) were in Texas, and the nine executions carried out in the rest of the country were the fewest executions in those 49 states since 1991.

DPIC and the Promise of Justice Initiative found that 72 percent of the prisoners executed in 2018 showed evidence of serious mental illness, brain damage, intellectual impairment, or chronic abuse and trauma, and four were executed despite substantial innocence claims.

DPIC projects that 14 states and the federal government will impose a total of 42 new death sentences this year. For the first time since death sentencing resumed in the United States in 1973, no county imposed more than two death sentences.

In Florida, a new law barring judges from imposing the death penalty without a unanimous jury recommendation for death resulted in at least four life sentences that might previously have produced death verdicts, according to DPIC.

Alabama is one of only two states that permit imposition of a death sentence without an unanimous jury verdict for death. Three of this year’s death sentences were imposed even though some jurors rejected capital punishment, and in the fourth case, a Mobile, Alabama, trial judge sentenced Derrick Dearman to death after he fired his attorney, pleaded guilty, and wrote the judge asking for death.

Public support for the death penalty also continued to fall in 2018. Gallup reported that the percentage of Americans who believe the death penalty is applied fairly fell to its lowest-ever point this year. And DPIC reports that, since 2015, voters have removed prosecutors in 11 of the 30 most prolific death-sentencing counties in the country, replacing most of them with reform candidates.

Two more people were exonerated from death row, bringing to 164 the number of former death-row prisoners exonerated in the United States since 1973, DPIC reports.

EJI Community Educator and death row exoneree Anthony Ray Hinton’s memoir, The Sun Does Shine, became a New York Times Bestseller this year after it was selected by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. The book documents Mr. Hinton’s 30 years on Alabama’s death row for a crime he did not commit. His account of his ordeal and EJI’s effort to win his freedom has drawn national attention to the unreliable and racially biased application of the death penalty in America.