1 Women's L.J. 1 (1997)
America's Aversion to Executing Women

handle is hein.journals/woljal1 and id is 7 raw text is: AMERICA'S AVERSION TO EXECUTING WOMEN

Victor L. Streib *
When American media and politicians push the death penalty as the punishment of
choice for violent criminals, the proposed recipient of this ultimate punishment is explicitly
or implicitly a man. Neither the media nor politicians seem to get the same mileage out of
executing a woman. Because of this assumption that executed murderers are to be men,
combined with our uneasiness with executing women, capital punishment of female
offenders is officially authorized in our country, but almost never carried out.
In general, both the female death sentencing rate and the female death row population
remain very small in comparison to that for males. Actual execution of female offenders is
quite rare, with only 514 documented instances beginning with the firstin 1632.1 These 514
female executions constitute less than 3% of the total of 18,922 confirmed executions in the
United States since 1608.2 The last female offender executed was Velma Barfield in North
Carolina on November 2, 1984, the only female among about 330 offenders executed in the
post-Furman era (1973 - present).3 Prior to this current era, the last female offender executed
was Elizabeth Ann Duncan, executed by California on August 8, 1962.4 The annual rate of
death sentences for female offenders has remained around five or six (2% of the annual total)
for many years.5
Death sentences and actual executions for female offenders are also rare in comparison
to such events for male offenders. In fact, women are more likely to be dropped out of the
system the furtherthe capital punishment system progresses.' Following in summary outline
form are the data indicating this screening out effect:
*Women account for about one in eight (13%) murder arrests;
*Women account for only one in fifty (2%) death sentences imposed at the trial level;
*Women account for only one in seventy (1.5%) persons presently on death row; and
*Women account for only one in 330 (0.3%) persons actually executed in this modem
era.7
In sum, women are unlikely to be arrested for murder, extremely unlikely to be
sentenced to death, and almost never executed.'
FEMALE DEATH SENTENCES IMPOSED,
JANUARY 1, 1973, TO JUNE 30, 19969
The current American death penalty era began when new death penalty statutes were
passed following the Supreme Court's decision in Furman'o in 1972, which in effect
struck down all then-existing death penalty statutes.n Sentencing began under the new
1

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