Does Minnesota Have the Death Penalty?

Last Updated on May 21, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

The death penalty has been abolished in 22 of the 50 American states. The issue of capital punishment is highly divisive. Despite a gradual decline in executions in recent years, many states uphold this law. There have been ongoing attempts to reinstate the death penalty in the states where it is banned.

In this article, we examine whether Minnesota uses the death penalty. Find out what you need to know about the death penalty. Learn about Minnesota’s death penalty, famous cases, and the issues surrounding this highly debated punishment

What is the Death Penalty?

Capital punishment (otherwise known as the death penalty) is a sentence given to an offender in a court of law. This state-sanctioned punishment is an order for a convicted person to be lawfully killed.

Since 1977, executions in America switched from electrocution to lethal injection. This involves administering a cocktail of drugs to achieve a quick death. However, there are many documented cases of botched killings, whereby the prisoner suffered massively as a result.

Why is the Death Penalty Used?

This form of severe punishment is designed to act as a deterrent against committing atrocious crimes. It is usually given in murder cases. However, it has also been used for other crimes such as espionage.

Time Spent On Death Row

Once a person is convicted and sentenced to the death penalty, they are banished to death row. Banished is the right word, given the amount of time a prisoner spends there. Many inmates will spend at least 10 years waiting on death row. Some felons have been there for more than 20 years.

Incarceration to this facility is understandably a grim affair. Inmates face long periods of solitary confinement, and the conditions are about as bad as it gets.


Approximately 2,500 prisoners are currently on death row. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the number of death row inmates is decreasing. This gradual decline has spanned 18 years. Time spent there has contributed to it. Legislative delays prolong an inmate’s stay by decades. Thus, death from natural causes (or old age) is a factor. The reversal of convictions is also important.

Does Minnesota Have the Death Penalty?

The death penalty is not enforced in Minnesota. It was abolished in 1911. Minnesota was one of the first states to abolish capital punishment. In 1906, a botched hanging resulted in the abolition of this law. After this, there were no executions in this state. The case involved State V. Williams, a convicted murderer.

Famous Cases

Minnesota is home to some famous cases of capital punishment. One of the most infamous cases was that of Ann Bilansky. This is one of the first recorded cases in the state. She was found guilt of murdering her husband.

This particular case is considered highly controversial, due to the fact that even the prosecutor spoke out about the trial’s blatant unfairness. Regardless, Ann was convicted and hanged.

The Mass Execution of Dakota, 1862

This case will forever be ingrained in Minnesota’s history books. It was the largest mass hanging in American history. A gobsmacking 38 people of the Dakota tribe were hanged by the federal government. A shocking 303 people were initially sentenced to the death penalty.

Thankfully, President Lincoln reduced it to 38. However, it turned out (as was often the case) that several of these were unfairly hanged due to mistaken identity.

The Case That Prompted An End to the Death Penalty

The case of Williams in 1905 is the most poignant of all. What occurred was so brutal, it prompted the calling to end capital punishment forever. A man was convicted of a double murder in 1905, and duly sentenced to death by hanging. Then it all went horribly wrong. Executioners wrongly estimated the length of rope needed to do the job. Consequently, Williams’ feet hit the ground. As you might imagine, the following 14 minutes were horrific.

Public interest mounted and so began a long 6-year campaign to abolish the death penalty. Finally, in 1911 the law was changed by the Mnnesota State House and capital punishment in the sate was banned.

Attempts to Reinstate Capital Punishment

However, attempts to reinstate the death penalty have continued despite its obvious problems. There have been many campaigns for a return to capital punishment over the years. The most recent one being in 2006. All of the bills put forward to revert this law were unsuccessful.

The majority of these campaigns to reinstate the death penalty arose from serious and high-profle murders. Nevertheless, organizations such as the Advocates for Human Rights and the MNADP (Minnesotans Against the Death Penalty) effectively thwarted these.

Reasons for Abolishing the Death Penalty

No error should be made when deciding such a fate – but sadly, mistakes were a frequent occurrence. You may be surprised to discover that since 1973, 186 innocent people have been exonerated.

Racial discrimination against colored people caused many wrongful accusations. Individuals were handed the death penalty, simply because of their ethnicity.

Other serious flaws in the law such as mental illness having no bearing on the outcome of a trial, reveal the arbitrary process of this punishment.

Furthermore, it was realized that it would be wholly unconstitutional for intellectually challenged individuals and juveniles to be sentenced to death.

Imposing the death penalty is a pricey affair. This punishment costs far more than the alternative options available. Moreover, alternative options such as life without parole are deemed to be a more fitting solution.

Additionaly, there is the question of deterrence. Advocators of the punishment claim it to be a highly effective deterrent against committing crimes. Studies reveal this to be false. In fact, every study conducted shows that the possibility of receiving this sentence has no bearing on whether an individual carries out a crime.

The issues surrounding imposing the death penalty are vast and can not be ignored. However, public opinion remains divided and there are many who still support it.

The Supreme Court

Capital punishment is being fazed out in countries all over the globe. In the 1970s the U/S Supreme Court acknowledged this severe sentencing to be unconstitutional. However, just 4 years later, it backtracked, allowing it once more under new revised rules.

The Federal Government

The federal government has the power to apply the death penalty in response to specific crimes. Until 2020, the use of this application was exceptionally rare.

Things changed dramatically under the Trump administration. During his time in office, the federal government executed a total of 13 prisoners. Before Trumps rise to presidency federal use of capital punishment was practically non-existent. Since 1977, just 3 prisoners were given the death penalty and then executed. Scary.

Public Opinion

Public opinion on the matter is hugely divided and is largely dependent on a person’s stance in other areas of life. An individual’s religious beliefs, choice of political party, race, and even education.

According to well-documented research, approximately 76% of Republicans give capital punishment their backing. Democrats on the other hand, are far less likely to support the death penalty.

Studies also indicate opinions may reflect a person’s level of education. Although this sounds like it was conducted by a group of elitists, the report found poorly educated people to show greater support for this law.

Overall, research suggests the majority of Americans deem capital punishment to be morally justified when given in response to murder. That said, many U.S citizens are fearful of the high-risk factor of wrongful convictions and its devastating consequences.