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We are not really a death penalty country, just a few death penalty counties

Emma Weisfeld-Adams

Death penalty usage map

We often think about the U.S. death penalty map as a map of 35 states with the death penalty and 15 without. Those 35 take up an awful lot of the surface area of this country. But Harvard legal scholar and attorney Rob Smith recently published new maps that paint a very different picture.

Smith’s maps focus on which counties have actually imposed death sentences and the answer is, hardly any. From 2004-2009, only 10% of counties in the entire U.S. sent someone to death row, and from 2007-2009 that number shrinks to just 5%.

Even in the states that use the death penalty most frequently, like Texas, Alabama, Florida, California, and Oklahoma, most of the counties in those states didn’t hand out any death sentences.

So the next time you hear that most states have the death penalty or even that U.S. juries support it, think about the death penalty in practice. A full 90% of U.S. counties didn’t send a single person to death row in the second half of this decade. The map of counties that had 2 or more death sentences during that period hardly has any shading at all. The majority of Americans have been living without the death penalty for a while, so official repeal wouldn’t change a thing.

You can see all of the death penalty usage maps here.

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