USA: Death Penalty Information Center Publishes New Report on Politicization of the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center Releases New Report on Politicization of the Death Penalty

Posted: July 1, 2024





Today, July 1, 2024, the Death Penalty Information Center releases a new report, Lethal Election: How the U.S. Electoral Process Increases the Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty. Using new data and analysis on appellate rulings and grants of clemency, as well as individual stories and case studies from across the country, the report examines how electoral politics distort the fairness and accuracy of capital punishment.

The United States is the only country in the world that elects local prosecutors, and the only one to elect judges in expensive, partisan judicial elections. This unique aspect of the American criminal legal system remains unaffected by the procedures introduced by courts in past years that were intended to minimize arbitrariness in the death penalty system. “The U.S. electoral process inserts many elements of unpredictability and unfairness into death penalty cases. A life-or-death decision should not depend on whether an appeal or clemency petition is heard in an election year, nor should a defendant’s fate rest on who donated money to an official’s campaign fund,” said Robin M. Maher, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “But the data suggest that is exactly what is happening.”

Lethal Election includes findings from original research on state supreme court rulings in Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio. The Death Penalty Information Center found that elected supreme court justices in those states affirm twice as many death sentences during an election year than in any other year. In a new analysis of clemency data, the Death Penalty Information Center has also found that a majority (56%) of clemency grants were made by executives who were not running for reelection. The effect was even stronger, however, when executives had sole authority to make clemency decisions: in those jurisdictions, 84.6% of individual clemencies were granted when the executives did not face reelection. When executives with sole authority to grant clemency did face reelection, they only granted clemency four times in 50 years.

Read more