United States Human Rights Council Death Penalty Sept. 2014

This joint stakeholder report addresses four main issues concerning the death penalty in the United States: 1) innocence; 2) lethal injection; 3) consular notification; and 4) Puerto Rico.

Since 1973, 146 individuals have been exonerated from death row, and a recent study suggests that if all death-sentenced defendants in the United States remained under sentence of death indefinitely, at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated. At least 10 individuals have been executed in the United States despite strong evidence of their innocence. Sixteen states that retain the death penalty have no compensation laws whatsoever for wrongful convictions.

Lethal Injection
The lethal injection procedure primarily used in the United States has come under constitutional challenge in a number of states as amounting to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

  • New policies adopted by foreign governments and regional authorities have hindered states’ ability to procure the drugs necessary to administer lethal injections.
  • The international business community has also begun taking steps to curtail its role in lethal injections.
  • As a result of these pressures, states are obtaining drugs from compounding pharmacies, which produce drugs that are not verified by the FDA for their quality, safety, and effectiveness.
  • Execution drugs obtained outside of federal regulation great increased risk of tampering and reduced efficacy, heightening the risk of cruel, inhumane, or degrading punishment during an execution.

Consular Notification
The United States refuses to adopt legislation to give effect to the International Court of Justice’s order to provide review and reconsideration of the death sentences of the 51 Mexican nationals in the Avena case.

  • Foreign nationals often face significant disadvantages within the U.S. criminal justice system. These disadvantages commonly stem from language barriers, cultural barriers, and, at times, geographical barriers to evidence located in their native country that may assist their defense.
  • The United States has failed to comply with its consular notification responsibilities regarding foreign nationals in capital cases.

Puerto Rico
Federal prosecutors seek the death penalty in Puerto Rico, a territory with a nearly 100 percent Hispanic population, at a higher rate than in other jurisdictions.

  • In 1952, Puerto Rico’s Constitution prohibited the death penalty, stating “the right to life . . . is recognized as a fundamental right of man.”
  • Similar to the rest of the United States, ethnic minorities constitute a disproportionate number of defendants being prosecuted for death-eligible crimes in Puerto Rico.
  • A defendant in a capital case in Puerto Rico is not guaranteed a jury of his or her peers. Only individuals who can speak, “read, write, and understand the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to fill out satisfactorily the juror qualification form” can serve as jurors in a federal tribunal.