The death penalty is dying a slow death in the United States.
Death sentences declined to a historic low in 2016, expected to drop by 39 percent from the already record-low amount of sentences in 2015.
There will be approximately 30 death sentences handed down in the U.S. in 2016, an all-time low since the modern era of United States capital punishment began, in 1973, according to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center. There were just 20 actual executions in 2016, the smallest number since 1991.
So why the continued decline? Actual executions remain isolated to certain parts of the country: Georgia and Texas, for example, accounted for 80 percent of all 2016 executions. And just 2 percent of counties in the entire country account for a majority of death row inmates and executions, according to DPIC. Plus, courts threw out death-penalty practices in four states — Arizona, Delaware, Florida, and Oklahoma — as unconstitutional. Only five states this year issued death sentences on more than one occasion, a 40-year low.
Public support of the use of the death penalty continues to dwindle, too. In fact, just about half of Americans (49 percent) favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, according to Pew. That figure is even more pronounced when you look at the previous year: Support dropped by seven percentage points since Pew’s 2015 polling on the same issue.
Lethal injections came under particular scrutiny once again in the United States, thanks to incidents like those in Alabama, where an inmate appeared conscious for a considerable amount of time after undergoing the procedure. Ronald Bert Smith Jr. “heaved and coughed” for almost 15 minutes after he was injected. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has said evidence likens the procedure to being “burned alive from the inside.”
“America is in the midst of a major climate change concerning capital punishment,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director of DPIC and author of the report. “While there may be fits and starts and occasional steps backward, the long-term trend remains clear.”