2013 Year-End Report

DPIC report 2013Every year, the Death Penalty Information Center publishes a year-end report on the state of the death penalty throughout the United States. The report highlighted the fact that 2013 marked only the second time in nearly two decades that the United States executed less than 40 people.  There were 80 new death sentences in 2013, marking a 75% decline from 1996, when there were 315.

It is significant to note where Montana falls in this kind of analysis of the death penalty in the United States. In 2013, there were no new death sentences or executions in Montana. In fact, no Montana court has sentenced anyone to death since 1996. Prosecutors are wary to seek the death penalty, noting how capital trials drain the personnel and financial resources of the county and state. Juries have grown uncomfortable with sentencing someone to die after high profile exonerations of those convicted of crimes they did not commit. Families of victims want perpetrators to be held accountable, not to spend decades in the court room battling appeals and reliving the crime with the attention of the media.

Montana also has not had an involuntary execution since 1998*. Moreover, the state has no means to execute either of the two inmates currently under a capital sentence. The Department of Corrections has been unable to piece together an execution protocol that satisfies Montana law, the Montana Constitution, or the availability of drugs. (Drug companies around the world have refused to sell to state Departments of Corrections that are using them for executions.)

It’s clear that Montana only uses the death penalty sparingly, so why, then, is it necessary for us to abolish it?

  • As long as the death penalty is an option, there is a real risk of executing an innocent person. This is unacceptable.
  • A death penalty that is so rarely used is little more than a cruel hoax on victims’ families, who are promised one punishment at the time their loved one is killed but will never see an execution take place. A death penalty that is never used is just another name for life without parole – at an exorbitantly greater cost.
  • Montana is not unique in the safeguards it has put in place to reduce the number of wrongful convictions. The U.S. Supreme Court mandates those protections for any state that imposes a death sentence. Those same protections were in place for the 143 men and women who have been exonerated after a jury of their peers decided they were guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
  • Montana makes mistakes. Three men have been exonerated for crimes they did not commit after DNA proved their innocence. Had the victims in their cases died, they would have certainly been executed before their innocence was re-vealed.

*One inmate gave up his appeals and was executed in 2006.