December 31

Does Indiana have the Death Penalty?

The death penalty has been part of Indiana law and culture since before it was granted statehood in 1817. The state has a long relationship with capital punishment, yet although the death penalty is still legal in Indiana, it has become far less frequently employed in recent years due to the introduction of Life without Parole as an alternative sentence for murder. The last person to be executed in Indiana was Matthew Eric Wrinkles in 2009. In this article we will cover the key facts and statistics regarding capital punishment laws in Indiana, as well as the background of the death penalty in the state and notable cases from throughout its history.

Key facts about the death penalty in Indiana:

  • Capital: Indianapolis
  • Region: Midwest
  • Population: 6,483,802
  • Murder Rate (per 100,000 population): 6
  • Death Penalty Legal: Yes
  • Current Death Row Population: 8
  • Current Women on Death Row: 0
  • Location of Death Row (Men): Indiana State Prison in Michigan City
  • Location of Death Row (Women): Indiana Women’s Prison, Indianapolis
  • Execution method: Lethal Injection
  • Sentencing method: Jury
  • Clemency Process: Governor on advice from Board of Pardons and Paroles
  • Is Life Without Parole a sentence?: Yes
  • Can a defendant get death for a crime in which they did not commit the murder?: Yes
  • Total Number of Executions Since 1976: 20
  • Total Number of Executions Before 1976 (including federal and military executions): 131
  • Total Number of Innocent People Freed From Death Row: 2
  • Total Number of Clemencies Granted: 3
  • Date of Reinstatement (after Furman v. Georgia): May 1, 1973
  • First Execution following Reinstatement: 1981
  • Death Sentences Imposed Since 1977 – 97
  • Individuals sentenced to death – 97
  • Currently under sentence of death – 8
  • No longer on death row due to reversals commutation, or dismissal – 61
  • Died on death row from causes other than execution – 6
  • Executed in other states for murders committed there – 2
  • Executed by State of Indiana: 20

How the Death Penalty Works in Indiana:

To receive the death penalty in the state of Indiana the defendant must be on trial for the crime of murder, however they do not necessarily have to have committed the murder directly. In order for the death penalty to be passed, the prosecution must prove to the jury the existence of at least one Aggravating Circumstance in relation to the case. Under Indiana Code 35-50-2-9, here are a list of 18 Aggravating Circumstances identified by the Indiana General Assembly in relation to the Death Penalty and Life Without Parole sentences.

The prosecution must convince the jury beyond reasonable doubt that one of these occurred. The prosecution must also prove that the aggravating circumstances in the case outweigh any Mitigating Circumstances put forward by the defence.

How Sentencing the Death Penalty Works in Indiana:

Once a defendant has been found guilty by a jury in a murder trail, the sentencing process can begin. In order to pass a recommendation ofor the death penalty, the jury must unanimously agree that at least one aggravating circumstance has been proven during the trail. In the case of a unanimous agreement, the court (i.e. the judge) must follow their recommendation.

If the jury cannot unanimously agree however, the court is free to sentence the defendant to either a term of years, life without parole, or the death penalty. However, since the introduction of ‘Life without Parole’ in murder cases in 1993, Indiana has steadily moved away from the practice of court ordered death penalties. These days, unless the jury has recommended the death penalty the judge tends to give life without parole.

List of Aggravating Circumstances in Indiana:

  • Murder whilst committing burglary, arson, child molestation, kidnapping, rape, criminal conduct, robbery, organized crime, carjacking, in criminal confinement, or whilst dealing narcotics
  • Lying in wait to commit murder
  • Causing an explosion with the intent to cause harm, damages, or injury, resulting in death
  • Being hired or hiring someone else to kill another individual
  • Murdering an officer or other official while they are on duty, or in revenge for an act performed in the course of duty
  • Committing murder while on probation, or on parole, or in custody
  • Committing murder on the grounds of an educational institution
  • Committing murder in a place of worship
  • A previous conviction for murder
  • Commission of a previous murder, even if not convicted
  • Dismemberment of the murder victim
  • Mutilation, decapitation, torture, or burning of the murder victim while still alive
  • Murder of a victim under the age of 12
  • Murder of a pregnant victim with the intention to kill a fetus
  • Murder involving Level 6, 5, 4, or 3 felony battery, kidnapping, sexual abuse of the victim, or criminal confinement
  • Murdering a witness to prevent testimony
  • Murder that results from intentionally firing a weapon into a home or from a vehicle

Appealing the Death Penalty in Indiana:

Once the death penalty has been given, it can be challenged by three levels of appeal in which the case and sentence may be reviewed. These appellate reviews are:

  • Direct Appeal

    This takes place in the Indiana Supreme Court and focuses on legal issues that might affect the sentence. This first appeal is mandatory for all prisoners on death row.
  • Post-conviction review

    This second level of the appeals process looks at factual issues to determine whether the defendant received competent counsel by their court representatives, whether evidence was suppressed during the trial, and if any witnesses have retracted their testimonies or been found untrustworthy.
  • Federal habeas corpus review

    This third stage focuses on greater, federal constitutional issues.

Alongside the three levels of appellate review, a prisoner can also request clemency from the Governor and request permission from the Indiana Supreme Court to file a successive petition for post-conviction relief.

On average, approximately 16 years passes from the time of a death sentence being imposed until a person exhausts their appeals and is executed in the state of Indiana. For every person executed by the State after exhausting all of their appeals, more than three others will have had their death sentences reduced to a lesser sentence.

Death Penalty in Indiana Since 1977:

In 1972, after the famous Furman v. Georgia case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that all U.S. state death penalty sentencing statutes were unconstitutional. The decision found that death penalty sentencing across America ‘allowed for arbitrary and capricious imposition of death and left too great a risk that improper factors such as race could affect the sentencing decision.’

After this decision, Indiana state laws and statutes surrounding the death penalty went through a period of adjustment and review, and were reinstated in 1977 new rules and regulations. Since 1977, 97 death sentences have been given in the state of Indiana, and 20 have been carried out. 2 convicts have been executed in other states and 61 have had their sentences lessened.

Of the 20 executed since 1977, 4 were executed after waiving non-mandatory appeals and 16 were executed having completed all appellate levels.

Method of Execution in Indiana:

Historically, hanging has been the primary method of execution in Indiana. However, in 1913 the state moved away from hanging due to the introduction of the electric chair. Indiana used electrocution as its primary method of execution until 1995 when it changed to using lethal injection.

These days, if a prisoner is executed, they will be strapped to a gurney, an IV line will be inserted, and a lethal substance or substances will be injected into that line.



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