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 Former Executive Director Norman L. Reimer's interview about why he is opposed to the death penalty.
- 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.
- 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.
- October 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, making it the 20th state to abolish the death penalty.
- February 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 Reform
Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. have abolished the death penalty, while an additional four states have a governor-issued moratorium. NACDL has engaged in state legislative efforts across the country to abolish the death penalty. Consider joining NACDL’s State Criminal Justice Network (SCJN) to exchange information, share resources, and develop strategies for repealing the death penalty and enacting other pressing reforms.
On March 3, 2021, Senator Durbin (D-IL) introduced S.582, the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act. The bill prohibits the imposition of the death penalty for a violation of federal law and provides that anyone sentenced to death before the enactment of the bill must be resentenced. To learn more about federal death penalty legislation, visit NACDL's Legislative Action Center and click on 'View key legislation' under the heading 'Find Legislation.'
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News Release ~ 03/23/2020
Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Applauds Repeal of the Death Penalty in Colorado -- Washington, DC (March 23, 2020) – This afternoon, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law a bill repealing the death penalty in Colorado, making Colorado the 22nd state in the United States, in addition to the District of Columbia, to abolish or overturn the death penalty.
News Release ~ 05/30/2019
NACDL Applauds Abolition of the Death Penalty in New Hampshire -- Washington, DC (May 30, 2019) – This morning, the New Hampshire legislature overrode Governor Sununu’s veto of its legislation repealing the death penalty, making New Hampshire the last state in New England, and the 21st state in the nation, to abolish or overturn the death penalty. Earlier this session, the New Hampshire House and Senate had both passed legislation to repeal the death penalty by veto-proof majorities.
News Release ~ 05/02/2019
Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Calls for Tennessee to #TestTheDNA in the Sedley Alley Case -- Nashville, TN (May 2, 2019) – In 2006, the State of Tennessee executed Sedley Alley for murder in a case his attorneys maintain had the “tell-tale signs of a wrongful conviction and DNA evidence that could have proved his innocence.” Yesterday, Sedley’s daughter April Alley announced that she is petitioning the criminal court in Shelby County, Tennessee, for post-conviction DNA testing in her father’s case.