5 things to know: Death Row and the death penalty in Georgia

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Here are some facts about Georgia’s Death Row and the death penalty in the state.

1. Death Row inmates make up a minuscule portion of the Georgia prison population.

There are currently 37 men and one woman awaiting execution on Georgia’s Death Row. At the start of 2024, the Georgia Department of Corrections counted 50,779 persons in all its facilities.* So Death Row inmates account for 0.08% of the Department of Corrections’ overall day-to-day population.

*NOTE: To see the variety of Ga. DCOR facilities, click here

2. Only three crimes in Georgia are punishable by death: Treason, aircraft hijacking and murder (with one of the aggravating circumstances listed below):

  1. The offender has a prior capital conviction.
  2. The offender was in the process of committing another capital crime, aggravated battery, burglary, or arson.
  3. The offender used or possessed a weapon or device capable of causing significant harm to more than one person simultaneously.
  4. The offender committed offense for monetary gain.
  5. The victim was or had been a judicial officer, district attorney, or solicitor general, and was murdered for reasons relating to their employment as such.
  6. The offender hired another to commit the murder or committed it for hire.
  7. The victim was tortured.
  8. The victim was a law enforcement officer or firefighter and was performing his/her official duties.
  9. The offender was in the custody of, or had escaped from, law enforcement or a correctional facility.
  10. The offender was resisting arrest.
  11. The offender had a prior conviction for rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, or aggravated sexual battery.

Everyone currently on Death Row in Georgia has been convicted of murder with aggravating circumstances.

The gurney used for lethal injections sits behind glass windows in a small cinder block building at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. (Ben Gray/Staff)

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Bill Rankin covers courts, the death penalty, criminal justice and public safety.

3. Death penalty cases in Georgia have become rare.

Sentences of death must be decided by juries and must be unanimous. If a single juror opposes a death sentence, resulting in a hung jury during the trial's penalty phase, a life sentence is issued. But, as the AJC's Bill Rankin wrote in 2016, "prosecutors almost never seek the death penalty anymore, and juries refuse to impose it when they do."

4. Georgia has executed a total of 75 people since 1976.

Our state has been noted nationally for the number of death row inmates executed in recent years. In 2016, Georgia led the nation with nine executions, but in 2017 the state carried out only one death sentence. The last execution in Georgia took place January 29, 2020 when Donnie Cleveland Lance was executed. There has not been an execution in Georgia in four years.

5. Georgia has been the key state involved in both landmark U.S. Supreme Court death penalty decisions.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty nationwide with its 5-4 decision in Furman v. Georgia (1972). The Court held that the death penalty in Furman (joined with two other cases, Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas) constituted cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. This rendered the existing death penalty in the U.S. as unconstitutional, which put all executions on hold. But in the case that reinstated the death penalty nationally, Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the Court ruled that "capital punishment does not violate the Eighth or Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution provided it is set forth in a carefully drafted statute that ensures the sentencing authority has adequate information and guidance in reaching its decision." In other words, states cannot impose the death penalty in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner; specific aggravating factors must be clearly set forth. Georgia did this by specifically revising its death penalty statute to include the aggravating circumstances listed above for murder.