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Death Penalty

Does the death penalty serve as a deterrent for crime? The research says no. Leading criminologists overwhelmingly agree that there is no evidence capital punishment deters violent crimes. Not only is the death penalty unjust and inconsistent with the fallibility of our justice system, but application of the death penalty is racially biased.

Death Penalty in States    Federal Death Penalty    Media

Active Campaigns    Additional Resources on the Death Penalty

NACDL on the Death Penalty

"The death penalty is barbaric. And I think we as a society need to come face-to-face with that. If we’re not willing to face up to the cruelty, we ought not be doing it."
- Alex Kozinski, United State Court of Appeals Judge for the Ninth Circuit

NACDL opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and supports reforms to ensure that innocent persons are not executed. Purely retributive in nature — countless studies show that it does not deter crime — the death penalty is unjust, uncivilized, and inconsistent with the fallibility of our justice system. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973, more than 1,510 people have been executed in the United States. During the same time, more than 165 people sentenced to death have been exonerated. Many others have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment because of serious doubts about their guilt. And some have been tragically executed despite serious questions concerning their innocence.

Because we believe that no amount of tinkering will rescue the death penalty from its inherent flaws, NACDL supports legislation to abolish the death penalty. View NACDL's Board Resolution Calling for a Moratorium on and Abolition of the Death Penalty.

State specific NACDL board resolutions related to the death penalty:

2012 - Endorsing Proposition 34 to End the Death Penalty in California

2011 - Calling for Abolition of the Death Penalty in Illinois

2007 - Commending New Jersey Legislature's Death Penalty Study Commission

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty

See NACDL Executive Director, Norman L. Reimer's interview about why he is opposed to the death penalty.  

90 Million Strong Campaign

In 2014, NACDL joined the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and a national coalition of civil rights, human rights, religious and pro-liberty groups for the launch of the 90 Million Strong Campaign.  The Campaign signifies the 90 Million Americans who believe that the death penalty is wrong.

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NACDL Executive Director, Norman L. Reimer expressed in his remarks at the launch of the campaign, “The practice of government-sponsored execution has no place in the modern criminal justice system...It produces arbitrary, sometimes irrational outcomes, and it perpetuates racial and ethnic disparity.”

To learn more, visit “90 Million Strong Campaign.” 

Recent Victories

  • March 2021, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill repealing the death penalty, making Virginia the 23rd state, and the first southern state, to abolish or overturn the death penalty. 
  • March 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law a bill repealing the death penalty, making Colorado the 22nd state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to abolish or overturn the death penalty. 
  • State of New Hampshire May 2019, the New Hampshire legislature overrode Governor Sununu's veto of its legislation repealing the death penalty, making New Hampshire the 21st state in the nation to abolish or overturn the death penalty.
  • March 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom made history, signing an executive order placing a moratorium on the death penalty in California, which has the largest number of people - 737 - on death row in the country.
  • State of WashingtonOctober 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, making it the 20th state to abolish the death penalty.
  • State of TexasFebruary 2017, the Supreme Court reversed a death sentence for a man in Texas.  The Supreme Court found that when race was infused into the proceedings it acknowledged that a capital sentence could not be enforced due to flawed testimony. Read the decision here.

State Death Penalty Reforms & Legislative Tracking

Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. have abolished the death penalty, while an additional four states have a governor-issued moratorium. During the 2020 legislative session NACDL tracked over 100 pieces of legislation related to the death penalty, including bills that would repeal the death penalty, impose additional state moratoriums and prohibit the use of the death penalty for individuals with severe mental illness. 

Death Penalty Legislative Report

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Active Campaigns

Nevada: The Nevada state legislature is considering AB 395, legislation to repeal the death penalty and commute current death sentences to life without the possibility of parole. On April 13th, 2021, AB 395 passed out of the assembly. AB 395 is now pending in the state senate. Use NACDL's social media toolkit, which includes graphics and accompanying sample social media language, to put the pressure on legislators to get this critical piece of legislation to the finish line. 

Social Media Toolkit

Federal Death Penalty Legislation

In July 2019, Attorney General William Barr announced that the Administration would restart executions for inmates sentenced to death for federal crimes. The last federal execution took place in 2003. There are currently 62 federal death row prisoners. As a result of this announcement, several bills have been introduced in Congress that would abolish the death penalty under Federal Law. To learn more about federal death penalty legislation, visit NACDL's Legislative Action Center and click the link that says 'View key legislation' under the heading 'Find Legislation.'

NACDL Legislative Action Center

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Featured Products

A recent Gallup Poll shows that  "Americans' support for the death penalty has dipped to a level not seen in 45 years." 

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