CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Death Penalty is Dying in US

From In a curious application of Newtonian physics, public and state support for capital punishment is steadily declining in America just as the resolve to maintain the death penalty seems to be hardening in the one arena where death-penalty policy once had seemed poised to change: the Supreme Court.

The trend is clear. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, which compiles statistics on capital punishment, two states have imposed formal moratoriums on the death penalty; executions in New York are on hold after the state's death penalty law was declared unconstitutional in 2004; 11 states (including, most recently, Florida and Tennessee) have effectively barred the practice because of concerns over lethal injection; and 11 more are considering moratoriums or repeals.

The raw numbers of executions and death sentences in the United States have plummeted: Information Center statistics show that in 1999 we executed 98 people, and in 2006 that number dropped to a 10-year low of 53. Whereas America steadily condemned about 300 prisoners a year to death through the 1990s, that number has declined by more than half and reached a low of 114 in 2006. Public support also seems to be faltering. A Gallup poll last year showed that two-thirds of the country still supports capital punishment for murderers, but when given the choice between the death penalty and a life sentence without parole, more people preferred the life prison term (48 percent) to capital punishment (47 percent) for the first time in 20 years.

The new uncertainty over capital punishment ranges from queasiness over the methods of execution to concern that we are executing innocents. Lethal injection, the preferred method of execution in 39 of the 40 states that permit capital punishment, is particularly fraught with problems.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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