The erosion of the nationwide death penalty in the United States continued in the quarter of 2022, as the size of death row in eleven states decreased and no death row in state or federal has expanded, according to the Legal Defense Fund’s Spring 2022 Death Row USA (DRUSA) report on capital punishment.
Overall, the number of people on death row in the United States or facing continued risk of execution in a retrial awaiting capital punishment or re-sentence proceedings on the 1st April 2022 decreased from 22 to 2,414 – a drop of 0.9% in the quarter and 3.6% below the 2,504 people on death row or overturned as of April 1, 2021. Florida led the decline, with seven prisoners released from death row without execution. Alabama was next with a decline of four prisoners, one of whom was executed.
Only three prisoners have been executed in the first quarter of 2022, which means that nineteen more people have been removed from death row following non-death sentences, death or exoneration than have added the new death sentences. The decline continues a more than two-decade trend that began after the number of death row inmates in the United States peaked at 3,717 in the July 2001 DRUSA report. Death row declined by 1,303 prisoners, or 35.1%, since then, posting annual declines every year in the 21st century.
The Legal Defense Fund (LDF), formerly known as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has published Death Row USA, its quarterly list of those on death row by states and federal government across the United States, for over forty years old. The Spring 2022 edition was posted on the organization’s website in late August 2022.
A Death Penalty Information Center analysis of LDF’s Spring 2022 DRUSA data found that the death sentences or death sentences of 206 people listed in its report have been overturned, subject to an appeal by the prosecution or a new trial or re-sentencing proceedings. This equates to 8.5% of all death threats, or one reversal for every 10.7 active death sentences. Excluding those on death row or sentenced to death, the number of people in the United States facing active death sentences fell to 2,208, down ten from the end of 2021. There were 73 convictions fewer active deaths compared to the total of 2,281 identified by LDF in April 2021, a drop of 3.2%. The Spring 2022 DRUSA reported 2,366 people on state death row or at risk of execution in state court proceedings as of April 1, 2022, the fewest since May 1990.
The DFL reported that 883 people, or 36.6% of those on death row or facing a new death sentence as of April 1, 2022, were in jurisdictions with a moratorium on executions – California, Pennsylvania, Oregon and the federal civilian death row. 839 people were on death row or at risk of retrial or re-sentence proceedings in the three states under the moratorium, representing 35.5% of all death sentences in the states. Excluding those sentenced to death in moratorium jurisdictions and those whose death sentences were overturned, LDF calculated that 1,385 death sentences were “enforceable”. The 1,051 currently unenforceable death sentences represent 43.1% of all active cases in which a death sentence has been imposed.
California’s death row, the largest in the country, has shrunk by two to 690 prisoners. Florida (323), Texas (199) and Alabama (166) were the only other states with 140 or more death sentences. Nationwide, 59.2 percent of those on death row were people of color: 42.4 percent were white; 40.8% were black; 13.9% Latinx; 1.9% Asian; and 1.0% were Native Americans. The states with the highest percentage of people of color on death row remained the same. Among states with at least 10 prisoners on death row, they were: Texas (73.4%); Louisiana (72.6%); California (67.2%); Nebraska (66.7%); and Mississippi (62.2%). 2.1% of all death row inmates are women.