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Capital Punishment, 2002

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 4:30 P.M. EST Bureau of Justice Statistics
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2003 Contact: Stu Smith 202-307-0784
After hours: 301-983-9354


WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today that thirteen states carried out 71 executions in 2002, five more than the year before. Texas executed the most offenders (33) in 2002, followed by Oklahoma (7), Missouri (6), and Georgia and Virginia (4 each). Preliminary data for 2003 show that the states executed 60 prisoners from January 1 through November 7, 2003. A total of 59 were given lethal injections, and one was electrocuted. Texas executed 21, followed by Oklahoma with 14 and North Carolina with 5.

At the same time, last year was the fourth straight year in which death row admissions dropped—304 were admitted in 1998, 282 in 1999, 232 in 2000 and 163 in 2001. During 2002, 159 persons received a death sentence, the lowest number since 1973, when 44 persons were put on death row.

As of December 31, 2002, federal and state authorities held 3,557 inmates on death row, 20 fewer than at the end of 2001. A total of 3,601 prisoners were on death row on December 31, 2000.

Among the 38 states with capital punishment laws as of December 2002, California held the most death row inmates (614), followed by Texas (450), Florida (366) and Pennsylvania (241). The Federal Bureau of Prisons held 24 inmates. Twelve states and the District of Columbia do not authorize capital punishment.

BJS also reported that:

  • Of the 69 men and two women put to death last year, 53 were white and 18 black. Six were Hispanics, all of whom were white. They had been on death row an average of 10 years and 7 months, which was 15 months less than those executed in 2001. Seventy of these individuals were executed by lethal injection and one by electrocution.
  • Among all inmates on death row as of December 31, 2002, the youngest was 18 years old and the oldest 87. Seventy-four of the 3,299 inmates for whom the date of arrest was available were 17 or younger at the time of the arrest.
  • A total of 51 women were on death row as of the end of last year, compared with 36 in 1992.
  • Among inmates on death row at the end of 2002 for whom information was available, 64 percent had a prior felony conviction, including 8 percent with a previous homicide conviction.
  • Twelve percent of the 6,912 men and women who were under a death sentence between 1977 and 2002 were executed, 4 percent died from other causes, and 33 percent had their capital sentences reduced to lesser penalties for various reasons.

Eleven states revised statutory provisions relating to the death penalty during 2002. Five states changed their statutes to allow jurors rather than judges to determine the presence of aggravating factors. One state authorized lethal injection as a method of execution; one raised the minimum age for which the death penalty can be given and one revised its code to exclude the mentally retarded from capital sentencing or execution. One state had portions of its death penalty statute overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The report, Capital Punishment, 2002 (NCJ-201848), was written by BJS statisticians Thomas P. Bonczar and Tracy L. Snell. Single copies may be obtained by calling the BJS Clearinghouse at 1-800-451-3420. Following publication this document can be accessed at:


For additional information about Bureau of Justice Statistics reports and programs, please visit the BJS Web site at:


The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist crime victims. OJP is headed by an Assistant Attorney General and comprises 5 component bureaus and 2 offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Office for Victims of Crime, as well as the Executive Office for Weed and Seed and the Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education. Information about OJP programs, publications, and conferences is available on the OJP Web site, www.ojp.usdoj.gov.

Date Published: November 9, 2003