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Executions Rose in 2002; Texas Led in Number of Deaths

In 2002, thirteen states in the United States of America executed 71 prisoners, with Texas killing the greatest number of them (33). California held the most prisoners on death row at year end 2002 (640), followed by Texas (450), Florida (366), and Pennsylvania (241). These and many other facts are contained in the November 2003 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report entitled Capital Punishment, 2002.

In the United States, twelve states and the District of Columbia have no death penalty. The Federal government and the states with a death penalty held 3,557 prisoners on death row at yearend 2002. Thirteen states California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Alabama, Illinois, Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Louisiana held 2,957 (83% of the total) condemned prisoners. The remaining death row prisoners were spread out among the other jurisdictions. The Federal government held 24 people for execution. New Hampshire, a death penalty state, had no one on death row in 2002.

Contrary to most of the rest of the world, sixteen states specifically authorize the execution of juveniles. Seven states set no minimum age for imposing a death sentence.

Four states allow execution of offenders as young as age fourteen. The remaining jurisdictions require the offender to be age eighteen years or older to be death penalty-eligible. The BJS reports, though, that recent Supreme Court decisions likely set the minimum age for imposition of the death penalty at sixteen years.

Of the people executed by states in 2002, 53 were white, including six Hispanics, and 18 were black (none Hispanic). Although whites outnumbered blacks on death row in all but eight states and the Federal prison system, blacks are sentenced to death much more frequently than their general population prevalence would suggest. In Louisiana and Maryland, blacks outnumber whites by two to one on death row. In the Federal system, three times more blacks than whites were condemned to die.

Hispanic prisoners, who may be classified as black or white, comprise 12% of the nation's death row population. Of other races on death row, there are 27 Native Americans, 33 Asians, and 12 whose races are listed as "unknown." Men make up 99% of the death row population, but there were 51 women on death row 30 whites (3 Hispanics), 18 blacks (none Hispanic), and three of other races.

The average age of death row prisoners in 2002 was 39 years. These prisoners were on average 28 years old at arrest. The youngest death row prisoner in 2002 was 18 years; the oldest was 87. Of prisoners executed in 2002, whites awaited death an average of 130 months, while blacks waited 120 months before being killed.

Execution was not the only way off death row. Besides the 71 state-sanctioned murders, 21 prisoners died of natural causes, three by suicide, and one at the hands of a fellow prisoner. In addition, 83 death row prisoners had their death sentences overturned.

Most were re-sentenced to something other than death, but two had all capital charges dropped. Florida and North Carolina each had twelve death sentences vacated, more than any other state.

The report is titled Capital Punishment, 2002 by Thomas P. Bonczar and Tracy L. Snell, report number NCJ 201848, published November 2003. The report can be obtained for $5.00 by writing to NCJRS, Post Office Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000. The report can also be downloaded in ASCII or PDF format from the BJS website: bjs/.

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