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Study: 2 Percent of Counties Order Majority of U.S. Executions

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A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center reveals that the majority of the nation’s executions occur in a very small percentage of counties.

The study found that just 2 percent of counties account for 56 percent of death sentences. Of those counties, seven of the top ten (who ordered the most executions between 1976 and 2012) are in Texas. Other states where criminals are most likely to die include California, Oklahoma and Florida.

Of the 3,143 counties in the nation, just 62 account for the majority of executions. The South is the most execution-prone region, accounting for more than 80 percent of total death sentences.

According to the report, “The vast majority of counties in the U.S. have no one on death row and have not had a case resulting in an execution in over 45 years. The people on death row today, and the inmates who have been executed since 1976, come mostly from a small minority of counties where seeking death sentences has been a high priority.”

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The study demonstrates that the death penalty is not as widely accepted as people may think. Although many agree with the sentence in rare situations, they don’t support it for the vast majority of criminals.

"People here believe in the death penalty but not in a death penalty that’s unfair," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in an interview with Al Jazeera. "And that’s the one that exists in practice."

Dieter also noted that a lone prosecuting attorney is often responsible for pursuing the death penalty, and that no repercussions exist for using the punishment unwisely.

"The discretion to seek the death penalty is totally within the prosecutor's realm and that’s where abuse may come in," he said. "Obviously as an individual, he might have biases."

Prosecutors are also elected officials, and sometimes strive to appear tough on crime to help themselves stay in office. Said Dieter, "Some studies have shown an increase in death penalties around election time.”

Sources: Al Jazeera, Death Penalty Information Center