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Geographic Disparity


Since the death penalty returned to Ohio in 1981, the vast majority of capital indictments and death sentences have come from only a handful of counties.

Ohio is in line with the national trend– the Death Penalty Information Center recently found that a paltry 2% of counties across the nation account for the most of the death sentences at an enormous cost.

Counties with more financial resources are able to pursue death sentences because death sentences, on average, cost millions of dollars more to pursue than non-death penalty cases. Looking at a map of Ohio’s current death row population by county illustrates the clear “death lottery” that the death penalty law’s author, Justice Paul Pfeiffer, described.

Death Row Population by County

The analysis of the county by county data of capital indictments in Ohio paints a frightening picture:

    • From 1981 through July of 2011, 10 Ohio counties that represent only 48% of Ohio’s population accounted for more than 79.5% of all indictments filed in the state
    • The remaining 20.5% of indictments were spread among 72 other counties.
    • Six Ohio counties never filed a single capital case during that period.
    • Of the 78 counties in the lower bracket, 34 counties (more than half) filed five indictments or fewer during that period.



Geographic disparity was one of the concerns that the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty addressed. Geographical disparities result in large part because individual prosecutors have broad discretion whether or not to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors confirm again and again that careful consideration is always given to capital cases and is the most serious decision a prosecutor can make in their career. Indeed, prosecutorial discretion is one of the hallmarks of our nation’s criminal justice system.

CountyCapital Indictments 1982-2013

However, in Ohio, the definition of “death eligible” has continued to broaden over the years, diminishing limitations for prosecutors determining which crimes are truly the “worst of the worst.” That’s why an Ohio Task Force chose to address this problem with recommendations like narrowing the scope of crimes that are considered “death eligible” and creating an oversight panel within the Attorney General’s office for capital cases.

Want to take action now? Click here to download a sample letter regarding Geographical Disparities that you can send your representative/senator!
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