Could a Decline in Executions Mean the End of Indiana’s Death Penalty?

The death penalty has declined sharply in the United States over the past two decades. According to the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2022 year-end report, annual death sentences have fallen by over 80% over the past 25 years, and the 18 executions in 2022 represent an 82% drop from the 1999 peak of 98. 37 states have either abolished the death penalty or, as in Indiana, have not executed anyone for at least 10 years. A few weeks ago, Oregon’s governor commuted the death sentences of 17 convicted state inmates to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Two irreversible flaws in the death penalty—its arbitrary use and the risk of executing innocent people—are undoubtedly driving this decline.

The Death Penalty Information Center explains that the arbitrary use of the death penalty results in death sentences for some but not for others, without justifying the inequality. Issues that shouldn’t be in play – especially race – can affect who gets a death sentence and who doesn’t. No legal standard, rule of procedure, or judicial oversight eliminates the arbitrariness of the death penalty. In the 1980 Supreme Court decision Godfrey v. Georgia, Judge Thurgood Marshall called the “de-arbitrariness” of the death penalty “proving” an incompetence for “our criminal justice system — and perhaps any criminal justice system.”