In the USA, once appeals have been exhausted, why do prisoners spend so much time on death row?
My personal opinions on death penalty aside, I would expect that once the sentence is final, it should be carried out without much further delay.
Law Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for legal professionals, students, and others with experience or interest in law. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
The time spent on death row is largely due to appeals, habeas proceedings, and a growing backlog. The time between an actual final appeal and execution is not astonishingly long. (However, "final" appeal is hard to pinpoint because a death row inmate can file successive habeas petitions at the federal level).
To highlight the relatively quick turnaround between a "final" appeal and execution, Richard Glossip lost an appeal to the US Supreme Court (Glossip v. Gross) on June 29, 2015 and was scheduled for execution in Oklahoma on September 30, 2015, a delay of 93 days (Mary Fallin Executive Order 2015-42). Due to unavailability of a particular drug, the execution has been further delayed until November 6, 2015 (ibid).
The rest of this answer explains the long delay between initial conviction/sentencing and eventual execution, using California as an example.
In California, since 1978, approximately 20-40 people have been added to death row per year, while fewer than 10 per year are executed. (California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice Final Report, p. 121)
There are generally three different appeals available to the defendant: a direct appeal to the state Supreme Court, a writ of habeas corpus to the state Supreme Court, and a writ of habeas corpus to the federal district court. (ibid)
The federal district court ruling regarding the habeas petition can be appealed to the 9th Circuit. That Circuit's ruling can be appealed to the US Supreme Court. (ibid)
The Commission identified several points that are responsible for the long delays in California (ibid):
The US Supreme Court also publishes a primer on the death penalty appeals and the habeas process (see especially pp. 8-10).
Because taking every option to appeal the execution takes so long.
You get put in death row after the first sentence. However you still have the option to appeal the sentence (using an attorney as a go between) which will delay the execution during the appeal process.
Only if you don't decide to appeal will the sentence be carried out swiftly. But not everyone is that accepting of getting killed.