US execution rate at lowest level since 1970s

Death penalty rates in the United States have hit their lowest point in 40 years, according to recently released reports. The most recent annual report from the Death Penalty Information Center showed capital punishment rates across the country have been in a significant decline when several indicators were studied.

One of the most noteworthy differences was the amount of new death sentences, showing that American juries are becoming less and less inclined to condone state-sanctioned killings.

In 2015, the federal government and 14 state legislatures approved just 49 new death sentences.

This shows a massive drop from the unsettling 315 death sentences passed in 1996, at the peak of a national panic concerning murder in large cities, and a serious crack epidemic. Due to the well-known protraction of U.S. death sentences, many inmates sentenced in the 1990s are only just coming to their execution date.

Executions which have actually been carried out have also seen a sharp decline. 28 executions were carried out in 2015, down from 1999’s record of 98. The death penalty seems to be becoming more and more geographically isolated too, as those 28 were carried out by only six states, with Texas, Georgia, and Missouri being responsible for the largest share.

Texas remains the execution capital of the entire nation, accounting for 13 executions in 2015; nearly half the annual total, whereas Oklahoma and Virginia accounted for one each.

One of the factors thought to account for the reduction in judicial killings is that the necessary drugs to carry out a lethal injection are becoming harder to procure. The drugs used in American executions are produced mainly in Europe, where a boycott on exporting them has been in place since 2013.

In October, U.S. federal agents seized a package of sodium thiopental, which the state of Arizona had tried to obtain illegally. Documents released in a resulting lawsuit against the Arizona State Corrections Department showed that the unidentified European supplier was not approved by the FDA.

While executions still continue in the U.S., making it one of the last remaining developed countries to uphold the practice, domestic and foreign opposition seems to be on a consistent rise. The latest Gallup poll shows that 37 percent of those asked were opposed to the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, up from a low of 16 percent in the 1990s.

2016 will mark the 40th anniversary of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a pressure group founded in response to the Supreme Court case Gregg vs. Georgia in 1976, which ended a four-year moratorium on executions.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, who died in 1993 and was the Supreme Court’s first African-American justice, gave a dissenting opinion during the Gregg case: ” . . . the death penalty is constitutionally invalid for two reasons. First, the death penalty is excessive. And second, the American people, fully informed as to the purposes of the death penalty and its liabilities, would in my view reject it as morally unacceptable.”


[The Guardian] [RT]