“The death penalty in America is dying,” states the Fair Punishment Project in its new report detailing America’s most capital-punishment-fervent counties. According to the report, Too Broken to Fix: Part I, An In-depth Look at America’s Outlier Death Penalty Counties, there are only 31 states in the United States where the death penalty is still legal. Out of those states—which issued a total of 49 new death sentences in 2015—there are a mere 16 counties that are responsible for issuing 5 or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the report reveals disturbing commonalities within this small faction of the country’s 3,143 counties—“structural failings” that lead to a “unjust outcomes which disproportionately impact people of color,” one of them being “the wrongful conviction of innocent people.”
The authors of the report state that the purpose of Too Broken to Fix: Part I was to examine eight of the 16 counties where capital punishment is prevalent—Caddo (LA), Clark (NV), Duval (FL), Harris (TX) and Maricopa (AZ), Mobile (AL), Kern (CA) and Riverside (CA)—to see if there are similarities which explain why these counties stand in contrast to the national trend toward ending capital punishment. The analysis revealed that “these counties frequently share at least three systemic deficiencies: a history of overzealous prosecutions, inadequate defense lawyering, and a pattern of racial bias and exclusion.”
The report’s findings are telling:
- Courts identified prosecutorial misconduct in 21 percent Maricopa’s (AZ) death penalty cases and 47 percent of Clark (NV) county death penalty cases. “The average across all eight counties was 15 percent, or around one out of every seven death penalty cases,” says the report.
- Five of the eight counties had at least one person exonerated from death row since 1976. Harris County (TX) had three death row exonerations, and Maricopa (AZ) had five.
- Some of these counties had non-death-row exonerations in felony cases, with Kern County (CA) having the most, at 24 known wrongful convictions in serious felony cases since 1989. As the report explains: “The pattern of non-capital exonerations is important because it shows inaccurate outcomes from the same offices, and often the same set of felony prosecutors, that try death penalty cases.”
Learn more about the Fair Punishment Project’s compelling new report.