Number of executions: 46 in 2010, 35 so far in 2011
The United States is an extreme outlier in its embrace of the death penalty. It is the only county in the Western Hemisphere that allows capital punishment and the only industrialized democracy that executes more than a handful of people per year. There are more than 3,000 people on death row in the United States, though the appeals process can often take years. Usage varies widely by state. Sixteen states, plus the District of Colombia, prohibit the practice altogether, and several other states almost never apply it. Texas is, by far, the national leader in executions, with 17 carried out in 2010. If Texas were its own country, it would have been tied for eighth in the world with Syria.
The death penalty is a hot-button political issue in the United States, with opponents arguing that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment -- which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution -- and is disproportionately applied against the poor and minorities. The debate re-emerged recently over the case of Troy Davis, a Georgia man who was executed on Sept. 21 for the killing of an off-duty police officer 22 years ago, despite scant physical evidence and the recantation of several witnesses. The Davis case, as well as the execution of a Mexican national in Texas in July, has drawn widespread criticism from the international community.
Some observers believe the Davis case may be a tipping point in the national debate over the death penalty, and the issue is sure to be a topic of discussion in the 2012 presidential race with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the running.