Death Penalty is Dying Out in US: 2014 Had Lowest Number of Executions in 20 Years
The death penalty appears to be heading towards its own death. This past year (2014), states across the country executed 35 people, the lowest number in 20 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and as reported in the Wall Street Journal. This year marked an even larger drop in the number of people sentenced to death, down to 72, the lowest number in 40 years.
While the death penalty is still legal in 32 states, only 7 (Texas, Missouri, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Arizona, and Ohio) actually carried out any executions this year. Some states are not implementing the ultimate punishment because of problems with the lethal drugs used in executions. But in other states, governors (particularly in Washington, Oregon and Colorado) have declared their intention to use their enforcement power to not enforce the death penalty due to the fact that it is often applied unequally, “sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”
The death penalty is also available for federal crimes, but the federal government has not executed anyone since 2003.
Also of note is that 7 people on death row were exonerated this year. Thanks to organizations like the Innocence Project, new evidence (usually DNA evidence) proved these people did not commit the crimes for which they were sentenced to death, and they were released from prison after serving many years.
Support for the death penalty, which is also referred to as “capital punishment,” has been on the decline over the last 20 years. About 60% of Americans now support the death penalty, down from 80% in 1994. And 6 states have banned the punishment over the last 8 years.
What’s behind this declining support? Perhaps because of the many people exonerated each year, revealing that we are probably executing people for crimes they did not commit. Or for others, including the state governors mentioned above, it’s because sentencing is often uneven and unfairly applied, based on such arbitrary factors as budgeting.
The U.S. is one of the only remaining western democracies to use executions as punishment. It’s probably only a matter of time until we also end this practice.
Feature Image: "SQ Lethal Injection Room" by CACorrections (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) - http://www.flickr.com/photos/37381942@N04/4905111750/in/set-72157624628981539/. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SQ_Lethal_Injection_Room.jpg#mediaviewer/File:SQ_Lethal_Injection_Room.jpg