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‘Failed’ executions in US hit all-time high, report says

Los Angeles California – While the use of the death penalty continues to decline in the United States, a new report has found that “botched” executions hit a new high this year.

In its annual report on the country’s use of the death penalty, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) said on Friday that seven out of 20 execution attempts by US states in 2022 They were “visibly problematic.”

That included a case in which Alabama officials had trouble inserting an intravenous (IV) line into a man for three hours, the report said, which defined a “botched” execution as one that included “incompetence of the executioner, failures in follow protocols or defects in the protocols themselves”.

“As lethal injection turns 40 this year, 2022 can be called ‘the year of the botched execution,’” DPIC, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit research group, said in a statement accompanying its findings, calling the proportion of problematic execution attempts “staggering.”

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Capital punishment, which refers to the death sentence of convicted criminals, continues to receive support in the US, with about 55 percent of people approving of its use against convicted murderers, according to a Gallup poll released last month.

A total of 18 people have been executed across the country this year, in just six states: Alabama, Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. However, that is much lower than in previous years before the COVID-19 pandemic, as the practice has come under increasing scrutiny.

‘National reconsideration’

Proponents of the death penalty say it is morally justified when someone has been found guilty of a heinous crime.

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But experts say several factors, including fears that innocent people could be executed, the disproportionate use of the death penalty against blacks and people of color, the high costs and questions about its effectiveness as a crime deterrent , are driving the decline.

While executions at the state level continue to decline, federal executions remain relatively rare, despite a notable increase during the administration of former President Donald Trump, under which 13 people were executed between July 2020 and January 2021.

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By comparison, the US federal government carried out three executions in a 55-year period between 1964 and 2019. The administration of President Joe Biden froze federal executions in July 2021.

Austin Sarat, a professor of law and politics at Amherst College, told Al Jazeera that “the United States is in the midst of a national reconsideration of capital punishment.”

“What changed the conversation is the belief that the death penalty system doesn’t work. It is unreliable at the conviction phase, clouded by racial bias at the sentencing phase, and often fails at the execution phase,” Sarat said.

Other issues

Administrative problems that can lead to botched executions, which critics say violate US constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, have been a concern and the European Union has previously refused to sell drugs used in executions to USA

The fear that an innocent person could be executed is also one of the biggest concerns about the practice. A 2021 Pew Research Center poll found that nearly 80 percent of people in the US believe there is “some risk” that an innocent person could be wrongfully executed.

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The DPIC report on Friday noted that two people previously on death row were exonerated in 2022, bringing the total number of such exonerations since 1972 to 190 people.

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It also found that most of those executed in 2022 had “significant vulnerabilities,” such as brain damage, severe mental illness, or an IQ level that qualified them as intellectually disabled.

Twelve people suffered severe trauma, neglect or abuse as children, and three were sentenced to death for crimes they committed as teenagers, according to the report.

The death penalty has also been criticized for being disproportionately applied to people of colour, with DPIC stating that “racial bias against defendants of color and in favor of white victims” has a significant effect on who is prosecuted, sentenced and sentenced to death.

In the state of Texas, for example, blacks make up about 13 percent of the population, but have accounted for nearly half of all executions in the state’s history.

Hadar Aviram, a law professor at the University of California Hastings School of Law, San Francisco, told Al Jazeera that the United States is the only country to reinstate the death penalty after instituting a brief moratorium on its use. .

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“The return of the death penalty … was part of a general punitive trend in the late 1970s,” Aviram said.

walk away from practice

In its report on Friday, DPIC said 20 people received death sentences in 2022 at the state level, with two others awaiting sentencing decisions, which could bring the total to 22 for the year.

However, the group noted that 37 of the country’s 50 states have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in the last 10 years.

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Earlier this week, Oregon’s governor said the state would commute all capital sentences and begin dismantling its execution chamber. And in 2021, Virginia became the first state in the southern US to ban the practice.

This trend has also developed globally. According to Amnesty International, more than two thirds of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

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“The United States has tried to make the case that it can continue to use the death penalty while upholding its fundamental values. People want to believe that when someone is executed, the state is in a position of moral superiority,” Sarat said.

“Failed executions blur that picture.”

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