Number Of Executions And Death Sentences Sharply Decline This Year, Changing Times?

The year of 2016 has ended with the United States showing new lows for modern times in regard to executions and death sentences. These statistics indicate the unmistakable signs that the practice of execution has dwindled in the nation in present time.

Although the number of death sentences given and executions carried out have declined, there are also signs and reminders that the death penalty is not yet a practice of the past, seeing as lawmakers and judges are still in favor of maintaining this punishment for crimes fitting.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center notes that the numbers seen this past year as well as those that will likely result next year are a part of "a consistent long-term trend."

"Fewer states authorize the death penalty than in the 1990s. There are fewer counties in those states that are pursuing capital punishment. Prosecutors in the counties that are pursuing capital punishment are pursuing it less frequently. And juries are returning death verdicts less frequently. The combination of all of these factors has reduced the number of death sentences."
In the past year, the United States executed 20 inmates, which is the lowest number nationwide over the past 25 years. The number has dropped from the peak within modern times back in 1999 when 98 convicted were executed. The dwindling number of executions has been for various reasons such as states struggling to obtain lethal injection drugs and due to courts halting the execution process because of appeals.

The Washington Post noted what the year ahead means for the death penalty and executions.

"There will be a total of 30 new death sentences this year, the lowest number in the modern era, according to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. That is the fewest new death sentences in a single year since 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively halted capital punishment by striking down sentencing statutes. (The justices reinstated the death penalty four years later.) To put that in perspective, in 1996, states across the country handed down 315 death sentences, the report states."

Nineteen states across America have now abolished the death penalty, with Nebraska being the latest, passed by lawmakers of the state. Voters, however, did not agree last month so the measure was binned. California voters rejected the proposal to abolish capital punishment and instead approved one that would see a more speedy process and quicken the rate of executions. Oklahoma voters allowed lawmakers the freedom to use "any method of execution not prohibited by the United States Constitution."

When looking at statistics from each of these mentioned states, despite voter decisions, it is unlikely that executions will be more frequent seeing as Nebraska has not executed an inmate since 1997 and California, which houses the nation's largest death row, has not executed since 2006.

Oklahoma executed for the first time this year since 1994, yet lethal injections are now on hold there after authorities used the wrong drug to carry out an execution last year and then almost used the wrong drug again only months later.

Support for the death penalty, as stated, has declined across the nation even though polls appear to be split in regard to overall favor and opposition of the practice. Various research conducted suggests that those in favor range between 50 and 60 percent of the population. This is far below where the percentage sat in the 1990s.

Only five states were responsible for the 20 executions over the past year and the majority of those were in Georgia, which executed 9 inmates, and Texas, where 7 were put to death. This marks the first year that Texas did not execute at least 10 inmates.

There remains uncertainty in Florida as the Supreme Court prepares to rule. Abolishing the death penalty there means that hundreds of death row inmates will possibly be able to seek new sentences. O.H. Eaton, Jr, a death penalty expert and retired Florida judge, spoke in an interview about the reality of Florida's system.

"The reason it's declined in Florida is not because the governor doesn't want it to be a top execution state. It's just that the death penalty's in such flux in Florida that there are no executions scheduled. And I don't think there will be for a while."

[Feature Image by Georgia Department of Corrections/Getty Images]