US Executions: 2014 projections

Last July I estimated that 2013 would end with 36 executions in the United States. The actual total ended up as 39, so there is clearly merit in the method of projection.

Despite legal battles (see Missouri and Oklahoma) over the constitutionality of recent lethal injection protocols (secrecy, supply, method…) this week has seen the 19th US execution in 2014. This startling figure is already three months ahead of 2013 (20 on 17/07/13). As such, today’s projection is likely to be far greater than last year’s, and possibly the largest for a decade.

19 in 114 days is 6/day. 6/day projected until year-end 2014 is 61.

After last year provided the second lowest national executions statistics since 1994, 61 executions in 2014 would be the highest since 2003. In fact, it would be the eighth highest total since the 1972-76 moratorium (8th most lethal year in 4 decades). 

While these figures only show haste and not actual predictions (only thirty-three executions are scheduled for this year so far, see The Economist predicting a decline on last year) they are worth noting as a demonstration of the willingness and capacity of American states to carry out the country’s infamously most severe penalty. “Public support” for the death penalty is “low” (though measured dubiously), but still presents a clear majority.

Does this provide evidence that the US death chamber will grow? The answer to that question is “doubtful”, but it is certainly worth discussing in order properly to understand the path the ultimate penalty will take in the coming years.


The 2014 estimate in context.

Adebolajo and Adebowale guilty of murdering Lee Rigby, but will they receive whole-life tariffs?

Edit: It has become clear that Mr Justice Sweeney, whole will pass sentence, will do so after a key appeal court ruling on the use of whole life terms in January, following Vinter.

Edit #2: It has also transpired that Jamie Reynolds, who murdered teenager Georgia Williams in Stafford, is sentenced to a whole-life tariff, the 5th such sentence in 2013 and the 8th on record for a first-time, single murder. Quite curious considering Mr Justice’s Sweeney’s indicated delay in the Rigby case. Sentencing remarks here.

Earlier today, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale were found guilty at the Old Bailey for the murder of soldier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in south-east London, in May 2013. Adebolajo, 29, and Adebowale, 22, lay in wait for a soldier, then struck Fusilier Rigby, the first soldier they spotted, with their car before butchering him to death and attempting to decapitate him.

The judgment was somewhat unsurprising, given the lack of actual defence beyond the defendants being “soldiers of Allah” acting in a holy war.

Contention arises when speculating about the sentence. Will it be a “whole life” tariff, under section 30 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997? So far in 2013 four whole-life tariffs have been given out, including Mark Bridger and Dale Cregan, both blogged about here, as well as Gary Smith and Lee Newell who were convicted together for a prison murder. “Life” is often condemned by the media as “not being life” because of the parole and license system in the UK, but whole-life tariffs do “mean life”, in custody. The sentence is the British equivalent of what is termed ‘Life Without Parole’ (LWOP) in the United States.

Such sentences are imposed extremely rarely in the UK, and only for murders where multiple victims are identified or there is a sadistic or sexual motivation for the killing. Mark Bridger was one of only seven to be sentenced in the UK to a whole-life tariff for a first-time single murder (since records began in 1952). Lee Rigby’s killers would become numbers eight and nine, if sentenced under this tariff.

There is another facet to the issue beyond simple rarity: ECHR law. As posted in July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Grand Chamber announced its judgment in Vinter & Others v. the United Kingdom (Applications nos. 66069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10), ruling that “there is a lack of clarity as to the current law concerning the prospect of release of life prisoners” in the UK. Should the judge follow this guidance, imposition of a whole-life tariff would be contrary to the holding until the law has been clarified by Parliament. That said, the stakes are extremely high and public interest in this case is compelling.

To conclude, Adebolajo and Adebowale will receive life sentences for the murder (mandatory in the UK), with a before-parole tariff set at around 40-50 years, if Vinter is followed. If not, whole-life seems compelling.

The Right to Liberty Contained at Strasbourg

A second publication by The Police Journal, accessible to subscribers only:

The Right to Liberty Contained by Strasbourg

  • The Police Journal. 86(3), 279.
  • October 1, 2013

Comments on the European Court of Human Rights ruling in Austin v United Kingdom (39692/09) on whether police action in detaining the applicants, a demonstrator at and passers-by of the G8 protest in London of May 1, 2001, within a police cordon had breached the applicants’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 art.5. Considers whether the police’s action was justified.

The latest prisoner votes judgment may be our Marbury v Madison

The latest prisoner votes judgment may be our Marbury v Madison

(Reblogged from a first posting by Adam Wagner on his brilliant UK Human Rights Blog)

At first glance, prisoner voting proponents may interpret the Supreme Court’s R (Chester) v Justice Secretary decision as a defeat for advancing prisoner voting rights in the UK. This blog post offers a different perspective. By comparing Chester to the seminal US Supreme Court case of Marbury v.Madison, we summarise that such proponents should take a step back and see the wood, rather than merely the trees. This is because Lord Mance’s Chester judgment offers human rights advocates, and therefore supporters of prisoner voting rights, an unequivocal foundation from which to defend future human rights claims.


Cleveland Kidnapper Found Hanged in Cell

Just one month after he was sentenced to LWOP plus 1000 years, Ariel Castro has been found hanging in his cell, causing his death. Castro, who plead guilty in July to 937 criminal charges including aggravated homicide of an unborn baby, did not face the death penalty under a plea arrangement.

His captives, Michelle Knight, 32, Amanda Berry, 27, and Gina DeJesus, 23, were rescued in May after one of them escaped from the Cleveland home.

The sentencing judge had remarked that he would “now become a number for the rest of [his] days”. 35 days later, his number’s up. Whether this should be prevented is somewhat a moot point, but surely a life sentence means life, not death, in the custody of the state.

A round-up of the Bradley Manning sentence; how long will he serve?

Wikileaks” whistle-blower” Bradley Manning, convicted in July of multiple espionage offences including communicating national defense information to an unauthorised source, was today sentenced to 35 years in prison, minus 1294 days credit for time served and torture he suffered. He will forfeit all his pay and allowances, and is dishonorably discharged from the Military.

Appeal Process

Manning can petition the Major General, Jeffery S. Buchanan, for clemency, as well as President Obama. His sentence – due to its length – will be automatically reviewed by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, and could then be heard by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The result of the CAAF’s decision can then be appealed to the final court of appeals: the Supreme Court (SCOTUS).

Time behind bars

Manning originally faced over 100 years behind bars, but was acquitted of the most serious offence in July: intentionally aiding the enemy. The US government sought 60 years with his defence arguing that 25 sufficiently reflected the severity of the offence, given that most of the leaked documents would become publicly available after that time. Manning will be eligible for parole after 1/3rd of his sentence, so 11 years and 8 months. Taking off the 1294 days credit, that becomes 8 years and 1 month, when Manning is 33 years old.

First post-Vinter appeal against UK whole life tariff lodged.

In my earlier post about the case of Vinter, where the ECtHR held the UK’s whole life tariff (life without parole) scheme was unlawful, I predicted that those other 47 offenders currently serving whole life tariffs “may now have the right to appeal”.

That prediction came to fruition today, with an appeal from three-time murderer Arthur Hutchinson, who will seek to argue before the Court that his sentence is a breach of his human rights, following Vinter. Though this will not mean, as is being reported, that Hutchinson will be released even if he is successful in his claim, it could well result in a review of the length of his sentence, his eligibility for parole now or in the future, and the system employed in the UK under the CSA 1997.