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Death sentence, execution rates decline, DOJ report shows

[JURIST] Both the number of people sentenced to death and the number executed declined in 2004, according to US Justice Department statistics [PDF report; DOJ press release] released Sunday. According to the report, in 2004 a dozen states executed 59 prisoners, six less than in 2003 and 125 people convicted of murder received a death sentence, the smallest number since 1973. Report authors attributed the decline to a murder rate that is at its lowest level in 40 years. Advocacy groups also attribute the decline to habitual offender laws, which take potential capital murderers off the street, the decline in juror reluctance to award the death penalty in the face of media or legal investigations, the use of DNA evidence, and the increased use of life-without-parole sentences as an alternative to capital punishment. Out of 38 states with the death penalty, only New Mexico does not have a life-without-parole alternative. Texas recently enacted [JURIST report] Senate Bill 60 [text; JURIST report], which creates a life-without-parole sentencing option in state capital murder cases, and this option may have a significant effect in the state which in 2004 had three times as many death row inmates as other states. AP has more.

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