<< News Scan | Main | Eleven Score Years Ago >>

Death Sentencing Rates, 2011

The Death Penalty Information Center is out with its usual annual report on the death report.  As is standard for DPIC, it contains some useful information along with heaping doses of spin and with any facts that might point in a direction contrary to their agenda omitted. 

Last year at this time, I noted:

The number of death sentences imposed in the U.S. has been dropping for the last 11 years.  Those interested in spinning can claim a single cause consistent with their viewpoint, e.g., (1) the American people are turning away from the death penalty; or (2) sentences are down because murder is down because the death penalty is working.  Reality is a bit messier, as it usually is.
That remains true.  As noted in last year's post, the drop in the murder rate accounts for a substantial portion of the long-term drop in executions.  That effect predominated in the early years of the decline, while other factors, more difficult to determine, have predominated in more recent years.
DPsPerMurder3.jpgHere is the updated graph of murders, death sentences, and death sentences per 1000 murders, with the sentences lagged one year.  The current year does show a significant dip in DPs/kM.

The Illinois repeal is part of it, but not a large part, as Illinois was not producing a lot of new sentences in recent years anyway.  The Supreme Court's categorical exclusion decisions of under-18s, persons with retardation, and crimes other than murder similarly are not a major factor, as death sentences in those categories were uncommon anyway, and those decisions are now multiple years old.

So what accounts for greater selectivity?  There are a number of possible interpretations.  DPIC of course promotes the one that most fits their agenda -- "growing discomfort ... with the death penalty."  But there are other possibilities.  One is that in many cases the length of appeals before a sentence could be carried out has caused victims' families to ask and prosecutors to agree to a plea bargain of life without parole.  Such a bargain, of course, is only made possible in most cases by the existence of the death penalty.  Another possibility is that the current economic woes of local governments have caused more prosecutors to forgo expensive capital trials in the borderline cases.  That is a (hopefully) temporary situation, and we may see a rebound in future years.

On polls, DPIC crows that Gallup shows "only 61%" in favor of the death penalty, which is the lowest since the mid-70s.  They curiously leave out a fact that Gallup thought was important to mention, that the sampling was done "shortly after the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, which generated widespread protests and extensive news coverage."  Actually, "circus" would be a better description.  Whether this is an actual shift in opinion or an artifact of that sampling fortuity remains to be seen, but DPIC doesn't need to confuse its readers with such nuances.  BTW, how many elected officials today would be overjoyed to have an approval rating of "only 61%"?

Ashby Jones has this story in the WSJ, and Joan Biskupic has this story in USA Today.  In order to manipulate press coverage, DPIC released its report early to the press on an "embargoed" basis, so that anyone commenting from a different viewpoint would have to do so without seeing the actual report. 

At the end of the report, DPIC has a little blurb about itself.  As usual, the blurb omits any mention that their whole purpose is to oppose the death penalty, instead describing their work in misleadingly neutral terms.  They do mention that they are funded by the Open Society Institute (George Soros's outfit) and the meddling European Union.

Leave a comment

Monthly Archives