The Death Card: Which US States Still Use Capital Punishment and Who Uses It Most


Twenty-seven US states still use the death penalty.

They are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky. Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

The last execution took place in Missouri just two days ago, when Ernest Lee Johnson was executed by lethal injection at 6:11 p.m. over objections from many – including the Pope – citing his intellectual disability.

For many critics of the US death penalty policy, one of the most troubling aspects is its inconsistent application.

While the death penalty is used in more than half of the country’s states, in addition to the federal death penalty, the likelihood of an actual execution taking place and the potential for a prolonged, painful or inhuman death vary widely.

For example, death by firing squad is a possibility in South Carolina, while in Texas it can be a lethal injection of pentobarbital, which experts say can cause “excruciating pain.” , as in the case of the execution of Wesley Purkey in 2020.

In the 27 states that still apply the death penalty, lethal injection is by far the most common method. But many drug companies are refusing to supply the required drugs, leading states to allow potentially far less human deaths.

This was the case in South Carolina, which in May instituted a law requiring death row inmates to choose between being executed by electric chair or by firing squad. They can only choose lethal injection “if it is available at election time”, and it is not currently.

Electrocution takes place in eight states, and gas chambers are permitted in seven. Three states – Delaware, New Hampshire, and Washington – still allow hanging. Four states – Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, and South Carolina – allow firing squad death.

A 1951 protest against White House executions

(Copyright 1951 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)


The frequency of those killed is also very different across the country. Texas has killed 573 people since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Virginia comes a long way behind, with 113 executions during this period, followed by Oklahoma with 112, Florida with 99 and Missouri with 90.

Exacerbating the inconsistency, federal death sentences may or may not be carried out, depending on the opinion of the then president or attorney general. Under the Trump administration, the use of federal executions has skyrocketed, with 13 inmates put to death in Mr. Trump’s last year in office – a startling figure given that there had not been a only federal execution since 2003.

Federal death row and moratorium

Many argue that the constitutional concept of equal protection under the law is deeply compromised in this system. Reflecting the growing unease in the United States with the current situation, Attorney General Merrick Garland declared a moratorium in July this year on federal executions while ordering a review of Department of Justice policies.

In a statement, Mr. Garland said: “The Department of Justice must ensure that all members of the federal criminal justice system are not only granted the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, but are also treated in a fair and humane manner “, adding,” This obligation has particular force in cases of capital punishment. “

In a note to the Justice Department, he addressed the whiplash policy change, saying: “Serious concerns have been expressed about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including the arbitrary in its application, the disparate impact on people of color, and the disturbing number of capital exemptions and other serious cases. These important concerns deserve careful study and assessment by lawmakers. In the meantime, the Department must ensure that we scrupulously maintain our commitment to fairness and humane treatment.

As it stands, the eventual fate of the 45 prisoners currently on federal death row is at stake.

Reform possible

Attitudes are changing in some states against the death penalty.

A bill from the Utah state legislature would “repeal and replace” the practice, with Gov. Spencer Cox admitting he can’t block it.

“I have supported the death penalty in the past, but I have certainly had the opportunity to reassess … my feelings about the death penalty,” Governor Cox said last week. “I think every time we take a life, especially the government, it’s a very conservative thing to pause and make sure we’re right.”

This decision would end executions and replace them with a 45-year life sentence. The state currently has seven prisoners on death row who still face death even if the bill passes.

Virginia lawmakers vote to abolish the death penalty

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine has postponed four scheduled executions in the state until next year.

He said “persistent problems involving the willingness of pharmaceutical suppliers to supply drugs” were the reason for the delay as a bill commuting the death penalty statewide was still under discussion.

Racist, ineffective, costly and error prone

The independent and the association Responsible business initiative for justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States. The RBIJ has attracted over 150 well-known signatories to its CEO’s Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The independent like the last on the list.

We join top executives like Ariana Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson on this initiative and are committed to highlighting the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage. .

Writing for The Independent today, the group’s CEO Celia Ouellette makes it clear why the death penalty must end.

“The statistics which illustrate the glaring flaws of the death penalty are worth repeating here. It’s racist – you’re four times more likely to be sentenced to death if you’re black than if you’re white, for an equivalent crime. It’s ineffective – states that practice it have higher murder rates. It’s incredibly expensive – executing someone costs $ 2 million more than a life sentence. It is an unacceptable source of error – for eight people executed, an innocent person is cleared ”.


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