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U.S. among top 5 using death penalty as global executions spike

All federal executions are carried out in Terre Haute.
Michael Conroy
Associated Press
All federal executions are carried out in Terre Haute.

The United States ranks among the top countries using capital punishment, contributing to a worldwide surge in executions last year.

That’s according to data released last week by Amnesty International, which opposes capital punishment in all cases.

Read more: Pittsburgh synagogue gunman arrives to Terre Haute penitentiary

The London-based rights group’s annual report on the global use of the death penalty documents more than 1,100 executions in 2023.

That’s about a 30-percent increase over 2022.

The United States was responsible for 24 executions last year, up from 18 the year before.

The report’s U.S. total includes all executions inside the country last year, although the federal government itself hasn’t executed anyone since 2021.

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Abe Bonowitz is executive director of Death Penalty Action, an anti-capital punishment advocacy group. He said the U.S. uptick is the result of legal hurdles and health restrictions that prevented some planned executions from taking place in recent years.

“Everything slowed down due to COVID. Also, various legal challenges,” Bonowitz said. "In a lot of ways, this is playing ‘catchup’ more than spurring some new execution spree.”

According to the report, Iran is mostly responsible for the 2023 increase. The others in the top five include Somalia, Saudi Arabia and China.

The report doesn’t include precise numbers for China but Amnesty researchers suspect it carried out thousands of executions last year.

North Korea and Vietnam likely executed prisoners, too.

Bonowitz said the list of other top executioners should give Americans pause.

“We don’t see executions happening in countries that we’d think are the ones we wish to emulate or stand with,” he said. “That’s a whole other reason we should reconsider the death penalty. Is this who we want to stand with?”

Indiana hasn’t carried out an execution in more than a decade.

But the state is home to federal death row — it’s inside a U.S. facility in Terre Haute. The facility is also where the United States carries out all federal executions.

The last federal execution, in January 2021, was one of 13 carried out by the Trump administration during its final six months.

Read more: Man found dead on federal death row planned suicide in final weeks

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland placed a moratorium on federal executions shortly after taking office. He said the U.S. justice department was studying the lethal injection protocol and changes to federal regulations at the end of Trump's term.

At the state level, the Amnesty report also includes data suggesting capital punishment is broadly on the decline by certain measures. Only five states carried out executions in 2023, down from six the year before. Two states were responsible for more than half of all the 2023 executions: Texas and Florida.

However, the report also notes plans in several states to change procedures or circumvent courts in order to impose death sentences more often or carry them out faster.

Read more: Democrats reintroduce bill to abolish federal death penalty

Legislators in several states also introduced bills to add execution methods.

The Amnesty report says 25 defendants in the U.S. received death sentences in 2023. They include one imposed by the federal government — the first since President Biden took office.

U.S. officials transported that prisoner to Terre Haute last year.