The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Death Penalty

The death penalty has long been a hotly debated topic in the United States. Evidence clearly points to severe racial disparities in how courts decide between life imprisonment and the death penalty. Another troubling statistic concerns the guilt of those condemned to death, as dozens of death row inmates have been exonerated through DNA testing of their evidence and set free.

Jump to:

General Resources



State Moratoriums & Repeals

Currently, 15 states do not permit the death penalty - the latest being New Mexico, which in March 2009 became the second state to repeal the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976.

In 2009 - New Mexico, Montana, New Jersey, Maryland

In 2002 - Illinois & Maryland

Supreme Court Cases

Baze v. Rees: On April 16, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that execution by lethal injection is not unconstitutionally cruel. The ruling ended a de facto moratorium on executions nationwide.

Hill v. McDonough: In July 2006, the Supreme Court said that a death row inmate may challenge lethal injection on the grounds that the mix of drugs used causes unnecessary pain and violates the 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

Roper v. Simmons: In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution bars the execution of offenders who were younger than 18 when their crimes were committed. Referring to "contemporary standards of decency," the Court held that imposing the death penalty on juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments.

Miller-El v. Dretke: In June 2005, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of an African-American death row inmate, citing race discrimination on the part of the prosecutors during jury selection. For Thomas Miller-El, it was the second time the Court had ruled in his favor and against the appeals court that had heard his case.

Banks v. Dretke: On February 24, 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Delma Banks, following allegations that the prosecution had withheld crucial information, which might have undermined the credibility of two key prosecution witnesses. Previously, on March 12, 2003, just ten minutes before Banks' scheduled execution, the Supreme Court intervened to stop Banks's execution.

Ring v. Arizona: On June 24, 2002, the Supreme Court invalidated Arizona’s death penalty statute, holding that a statute allowing a judge, rather than a jury, to find facts necessary for the imposition of the death penalty violated the defendant’s 6th Amendment right to a trial by jury.

Atkins v. Virginia: On June 20, 2002,the Supreme Court ruled to ban the execution of those with mental retardation, as a violation of the Eighth Amendment's Prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The decision overturned a previous Supreme Court decision that upheld the practice.

National Legislation

Innocence Protection Act: This legislation was signed into law as part of the Justice for All Act on October 30, 2004. The Act authorizes funding to states for post-conviction DNA testing, to clear DNA backlogs, to improve crime labs, and to help improve the quality of representation in capital cases.


Lethal Injection


Racial Bias

Our Members