The number of death row executions in the U.S. declined slightly in 2013, while the death row population and the number of states to sanction the death penalty—thanks to Maryland's repeal of capital punishment—also fell, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center's (DPIC) annual year-end report.
"The problems of mistakes, unfairness, and even the method of execution have exasperated many supporters of the death penalty, contributing to less reliance on capital punishment," the report said.
Nine states—Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Arizona, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and Texas—executed 39 death row prisoners, making 2013 just the second year in the past two decades in which fewer than 40 prisoners were put to death nationwide. In 2012, 43 executions were carried out in the U.S., while 98 prisoners were executed in the peak year of 1999.
Most of the 32 states that sanction the death penalty had no executions in 2013, which the DPIC partly attributed to "the ongoing problem that states have had in finding a consistent means of carrying out executions."
Because so many pharmaceutical companies—most of them based in Europe— have banned the use of their drugs for lethal injections, several states and the federal government have suspended executions. California, North Carolina and Arkansas—all states that sanction the death penalty—have not executed a prisoner in more than seven years "because of their inability to settle on a lethal injection protocol," the DPIC said.
Texas' 16 executions accounted for nearly half of the year-end, nationwide total—and was an increase from 2012's 15 executions in the state— but the number of death sentences imposed in Texas last year (9) was 80% fewer than were imposed in 1999 (48) and the sixth consecutive year that the state had fewer than 10 death sentences.
Through the middle of December 2013, when the DPIC report was published, the total number of new death sentences across the U.S. was 80- three more than in 2012, but vastly fewer than the 315 imposed in peak years 1994 and 1996—representing the lowest total since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s.
While California and Florida imposed almost half of all the new death sentences last year (39), South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana- southern states that often figure prominently in capital punishment statistics—imposed no death sentences in 2013.
The number of prisoners on death row nationwide also continued to decline, largely thanks to fewer states sanctioning capital punishment and many death row prisoners having their sentences overturned or commuted.
As of April 1, 2013, according to the DPIC, there were 3,108 people on death row across the country, compared to 3,170 a year prior, marking the 13th consecutive year that number has fallen. In 2000, there were 3,670.
Finally, Maryland became the 18th state overall and the sixth state in the past six years to repeal its use of the death penalty when its legislature voted to end capital punishment there.
"Over the longer arc of history, I think you'll see more and more states repeal the death penalty," Gov. Martin O'Malley said when he signed the legislation on May 2. "It's wasteful. It's ineffective. It doesn’t work to reduce violent crime."
Source: "The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report,” Death Penalty Information Center, December 2013, www.deathpenaltyinfo.org; sentencing.typepad.com
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