The State of Death Penalty in the US

The United States is one of just 14 countries that still actively use the death penalty. However, not all states actively carry out capital punishment. Over half of the states in the US have the death penalty. However, three states have moratoriums in place that have halted executions. In addition, 23 states and the District of Columbia (DC) have abolished the death penalty.

Here is a closer look at the current state of the death penalty in the US.

How Many States Have the Death Penalty?

The death penalty is legal in 27 states. The US government and the US military also retain the death penalty.

The states that still have the death penalty include:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arizona
  3. Arkansas
  4. California
  5. Florida
  6. Georgia
  7. Idaho
  8. Indiana
  9. Kansas
  10. Kentucky
  11. Louisiana
  12. Mississippi
  13. Missouri
  14. Montana
  15. Nebraska
  16. Nevada
  17. North Carolina
  18. Ohio
  19. Oklahoma
  20. Oregon
  21. Pennsylvania
  22. South Carolina
  23. South Dakota
  24. Tennessee
  25. Texas
  26. Utah
  27. Wyoming

Out of the 27 states with the death penalty, 3 have gubernatorial moratoriums:

  • California
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania

In 2019, California Governor Newsom issued a moratorium on the death penalty that provided temporary reprieves to the 737 inmates on death row at the time. The suspension remains in place until the end of Newsom’s governorship.

A similar moratorium was issued by Oregon Governor Kitzhaber in 2011. Governor Kate Brown succeeded Kitzhaber in 2015 and stated that she would uphold the moratorium. In addition, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a death penalty moratorium in 2015.

As of April 1st, 2021, over 2500 inmates are on death row in the United States. However, of the 24 states that currently allow the death penalty, 13 states have not executed in over a decade.

Seventeen people were executed in the United States in 2020, below the peak of 98 executions in 1999. Ten of the executions in 2020 were completed by the US government. Out of the remaining seven executions, three were carried out in Texas. The other four occurred in Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama.

Did the US Supreme Court Abolish the Death Penalty?

The United States Supreme Court issued a moratorium that temporarily halted all executions in the US in 1972. The decision came after a 5-4 vote in the case of Furman v. Georgia.

Furman was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Georgia after killing a citizen during a burglary. The victim discovered Furman burglarizing the residence. The gun Furman was carrying went off as he fled the home, killing the resident.

As the homicide occurred during the commission of a felony, state law qualified Furman for the death penalty, even if the weapon was discharged accidentally. However, the US Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional in this case. The ruling led to over 630 death sentences being vacated.

Over the next four years, 37 states implemented new death penalty laws. The new regulations needed to address discriminatory and arbitrary effects that the court described as cruel and unusual punishment to reinstate the death penalty.

How Many States Have Abolished the Death Penalty?

Twenty-three states do not currently allow capital punishment. However, many states that now carry out executions have abolished capital punishment before reinstating it years later.

For example, capital punishment was temporarily abolished in California in 1972 for several months before being found unconstitutional in 1976. The death penalty laws were revised and reinstated in California in 1977. Governor Newsom issued his moratorium ending executions in the state in 2019.

Abolitionist movements have existed throughout the history of the United States. However, only a handful of states had abolished the death penalty before the mid-twentieth century.

After World War II, many nations limited or abolished the death penalty. As a result, public support for the death penalty started to decline around this time. Nevertheless, the US carried out 1,289 executions in the 1940s. Seven hundred fifteen executions were completed in the 1950s. From 1960 to 1976, 191 executions were carried out.


Most of the current death penalty laws were implemented in the mid-1970s, following the US Supreme Court ruling in 1972. While 37 states initially reinstated capital punishment, only 27 states still have death penalty laws. In addition, three states have moratoriums blocking capital punishment, leaving 24 states with active death penalty laws.

How Many States Have the Death Penalty?

The death penalty is legal in 27 states. The US government and the US military also retain the death penalty.

Did the US Supreme Court Abolish the Death Penalty?

No. A 1972 ruling temporarily paused executions for a few years.

How Many States Have Abolished the Death Penalty?

Twenty-three states have abolished capital punishment