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Capital Punishment, 1985

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 1986
Publication Series
The status of capital punishment in 1985 is reviewed, including changes in statutory law, court decisions, and capital sentences and executions.

During the year, the U.S. Supreme Court heard cases dealing with juror selection, the insanity defense, jury instructions, mandatory sentences, and the use of lethal drug injection in capital cases. The Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty in three separate cases. Alterations in death penalty statutes, enacted by 11 States in 1985, dealt with aggravating factors, probation and parole of inmates with commuted life terms, and time limitations on court review of death sentences. Only one of the States restricted the scope of the death penalty. During the year, 8 States executed 18 prisoners. Lethal injection and electrocution were the most commonly used methods. Further, 273 inmates were received under sentence of death, 80 had their death sentences vacated or commuted, and 4 died while under sentence of death. At year end, 32 States had a total of 12,591 inmates under sentence of death, all for murder. About two-thirds under sentence of death had prior felony records, the majority were white, and the median age was nearly 32. About 63 percent of inmates under death sentences were in the South. List of case citations, notes on State statutory changes, and a list of other research reports.

Date Published: October 1, 1986