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Execution Numbers Steady in 2012

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The number of executions in the United States was steady this year.  There were 43, exactly the same as last year.  So how do you spin that into the narrative that America is supposedly turning away from the death penalty?  The ever-creative Death Penalty Information Center manages.  Andrew Ramonas has this story in the National Law Journal.  To his credit, he identifies DPIC right up front as "an anti-death penalty group."  (For years after DPIC emerged, they had the press referring to them as a neutral group.)

"But the number of executions has dropped by 56 percent since 1999."  This is DPIC's favorite tactic, cherry-picking the reference point to show a dramatic change when the reality is far less dramatic.  The full table of number of executions from 1930 to 2010 is in the Sourcebook.  The last two years are both 43, as noted above.  Congress passed a major reform of federal habeas corpus in 1996 (AEDPA), the most immediately effective portion of which was a strict limit on successive petitions.  As a result, there was a spike in the years following that enactment, with 98 executions in 1999 being the peak.  There were 45 in the year AEDPA was enacted, 56 in the year before that, and all of the years from the restoration of capital punishment through 1994 were below this year's total.  More recently, the average number of executions for the period 2007-2010 is 44.25.  So actually the number has settled back from the post-AEDPA spike to a plateau in the neighborhood of pre-AEDPA levels, and this year's number is essentially unchanged from the numbers of recent years.

Choosing as your reference point a year in which the number was unusually high or low due to a special event is deeply dishonest, a prime example of how to lie with statistics.  I could say that this year's numbers are an infinite percentage increase over 1972, but I won't.

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