Death Penalty

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Death Penalty 2017-03-28T06:53:18-05:00

Death Penalty

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of civil liberties, and violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Moreover, capital punishment is often unfairly and unjustly applied. For example, most death row inmates are poor and could not afford adequate legal representation at their trials. Minorities are more likely to be sentenced to death than whites, and cases involving white victims are more likely to end in a death sentence than cases involving Black victims.

Additionally, where a death sentence is sought often determines whether a defendant is sentenced to death more than the circumstances of the crime. Studies also show that the death penalty is not an effective crime deterrent, and that capital punishment is more expensive than life in prison without parole.

ACLU-TN has long called on the Tennessee General Assembly to institute a moratorium on executions so that these serious problems can be studied.



Between 1973 and 2015, 148 innocent death-row prisoners in 26 different states were exonerated and released.


A mere two percent of this nation’s counties have produced both a majority of all executions imposed since 1976 (52 percent) and of prisoners awaiting execution on death row (56 percent).


Seventy-six percent of executions imposed since 1976 were for killing (at least one) white victim.


Legislative Work

Protect Innocent People from Execution

In 2016, ACLU-TN joined with partners and successfully lobbied for a law that ensures that innocent people are not executed by requiring that biological evidence collected for death penalty cases be kept until the individual’s execution or completion of sentence.  Public Chapter 988.

ACLU-TN Legislative Highlights: Death Penalty, 106th Tennessee General Assembly, 2009-2010

ACLU-TN Legislative Highlights: Death Penalty, 107th Tennessee General Assembly, 2008-2019

Take Action

No Government Should Experiment With Human Life

Call on governors and other decisionmakers to put a stop to all executions until states can provide greater transparency and accountability about where they are getting drugs used during executions.


Innocent Man on Death Row Wants To Die At Home

Why Is The Government Experimenting With Human Life?

African-Americans Excluded from Capital Case Juries


ACLU Capital Punishment Project

The Capital Punishment Project works toward the repeal of the death penalty in the United States through strategic litigation, advocacy, public education and training programs for capital defense teams.

Prosecutors Still Using Race to Choose Juries in Death Penalty Cases, Despite Century of Supreme Court Rulings

REPORT: Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

This overview discusses the intersection of the law and the challenges faced by mentally ill capital defendants at every stage from trial through appeals and execution.  It provides examples of some of the more famous cases of execution of the mentally ill.  Lastly, it describes current legislative efforts to exempt those who suffer from a serious mental illness from execution and the importance of such efforts.

Federal Death Row: Is It Really Color-Blind? An Analysis of June 6 Department of Justice Report on the Federal Death Penalty