Speed Reads

'year of the botched execution'

Death penalty: U.S. carried out historically few executions in 2022, but 1 in 3 were 'botched'

Capital punishment fell further out of favor in the U.S. in 2022, with public support continuing its decade-long slide and the states that still use the death penalty carrying out historically few executions, the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) said Thursday in its annual survey. 

This year's 18 executions — a 31-year low, excluding the two pandemic years — were clustered in just six states, and more than half were carried out in Texas (five) and Oklahoma (five). Seven of the 20 attempts to execute prisoners were shockingly, visibly problematic, DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham said. "You can call this year the year of the botched execution." Two executions were ultimately abandoned

Gallup found that 55 percent of Americans support the death penalty, down from 80 percent in 1994. Dunham said the steady drop in public support is directly tied to the botched executions. The "very few states that are trying to carry out the death penalty" are acting "more and more extreme" and "undermining public confidence that states can be trusted with the death penalty," he said.

States have had trouble procuring drugs for their lethal injection cocktails for years, pushing them toward experimental drugs or alternative methods of execution. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) paused all executions after the state failed to properly test its lethal injection drugs. A South Carolina court blocked the state's use of the firing squad. But most of this year's problems stemmed from executioners failing to access inmate's veins to inject the drugs. After three botched attempts, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey suspended executions pending a review of state protocols. 

Twenty-seven states still have capital punishment on the books, but 37 states have either abolished the death penalty or not executed anybody in more than a decade. The Biden administration imposed a moratorium on federal executions in 2021, after a final flurry of executions by the Trump administration. And outgoing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Dec. 13 commuted the death sentences of all 17 inmates on Oregon's death row. 

"Every year, or every other year, something big happens that shows continued movement away from the death penalty — a state will abolish it, like Virginia did last year, or a governor will implement a moratorium, like California the year before," Dunham said. "It shows that the movement away from the death penalty continues and has a sense of inevitability."