A Look at the 16 U.S. Counties Where the Death Penalty Reigns
The use of the death penalty has become a rarity across the United States, but when these ultimate punishments do occur, they are usually concentrated in a handful of counties. Now, a research project out of Harvard Law School aims to understand what makes these outlier counties tick and why their prisoners are more likely to be sentenced to die.
The Fair Punishment Project is only on Part I of its two-part series examining the 16 U.S. counties that imposed five or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015. These represent just one half of one percent of the counties in the U.S. Six of them are in Alabama and Florida, where non-unanimous death verdicts are permitted. Five are located in California (Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino). The others include Caddo, LA; Clark, NV; Dallas, TX; Harris, TX; and Maricopa. AZ.
So, what makes these counties so different?
“The people who get the death penalty tend to live in places with overaggressive prosecutors and defense lawyers who aren’t up to the task of defending against them — that’s a double whammy,” concludes Robert J. Smith, who directs the project. “Then in some places there’s a third element: a cultural legacy of racial bias and exclusion. It’s just not true that we execute the people who are the most culpable.”
The greatest number of death sentences handed down between 2010 and 2015 was in Maricopa County (28), followed by Duval, Clark County and Mobile. Riverside County rounded out the top five.
“Riverside County has become the nation’s leading producer of death sentences,” according to the report. “In 2015, with eight new death sentences, Riverside sent more people to death row last year than every other state in the country except Florida and California itself. Between 2010 and 2015, Riverside amassed 29 death sentences (not including re-sentences), the second most of any county in America. Riverside’s rate of death sentencing per 100 homicides was nearly nine times the rate for the rest of California.”
Read Part I of the project here.