The death penalty – or capital punishment – is a government-sanctioned punishment for committing a crime. If someone is convicted and given the death penalty, that person will be executed or put to death as a punishment for that crime.
Only people that are convicted of committing capital crimes and offenses are eligible to receive the death penalty. Crimes that fall into this category include murder, espionage, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and treason.
A person convicted of a crime and sentenced to the death penalty is sent to death row. This is a part of a prison where inmates awaiting execution are housed. In most cases, a convict may sit on death row for several years during the habeas corpus and appeals processes.
The death penalty is a controversial topic. Many opponents of capital punishment feel that it is morally wrong. Some think it is influenced by racial bias, and others believe that keeping prisoners in limbo for years on Death Row has adverse effects on mental health. The United States is one of 14 countries that have legalized and retained the right to use the death penalty.
How many states still have the death penalty? As of 2020, the death penalty is legal in 25 states. A total of 22 states – plus Washington D.C. – have abolished the death penalty, and three states have a governor-imposed moratorium. The three states with a governor-imposed moratorium are California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.
The first state to abolish the death penalty was Wisconsin, which made the punishment illegal in 1853. Most recently, Washington, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, and Illinois have all abolished capital punishment.
Florida is one of 30 states that have the death penalty. The first execution in Florida was in 1827. Since 1976, after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, Florida has executed 99 convicted murderers, including notorious serial killer Ted Bundy on January 24, 1989. On June 14, 2013, Governor Rick Scott signed the Timely Justice Act of 2013, which speeds up the process of capital punishment by creating tighter time frames for the sentenced to make appeals and imposes reporting requirements on case progress. As of November 2020, 339 offenders are on death row.
Does California have the death penalty? Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the state of California. Between 1778 and 1972, California carried out 709 executions. In 1972, the California Supreme Court struck down the state capital punishment statute in People vs. Anderson, which was reinstated by voters months later. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a moratorium on executions in California that affected 737 inmates on the country's largest death row. California's last execution was in January 2006, and its death row population has grown by about 100 inmates.
Texas has the death penalty. Texas was the first jurisdiction in the world to carry out an execution by lethal injection in 1964. From 1976 to September 25, 2019, Texas has executed 565 offenders, more than a third of its total. There are several reasons why Texas has the highest number of executions, such as the required strictness of appellate judges. Additionally, Texas relies upon court-appointed lawyers for indigent defendants, who likely do not have experience in capital defenses or appeals. As of January 2021, Texas currently has 205 inmates on death row.
Colorado became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty on March 23, 2020. Governor Jared Polis signed legislation that repealed the state's capital punishment statute. The state's three death row prisoners' sentences were commuted to life without the possibility of parole.
Virginia is the 23rd and most recent state to abolish the death penality on March 24, 2021. It will become law on July 1, 2021.