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US death sentences hit 30-year low: report

[JURIST] The number of death sentences issued in 2006 reached the lowest level in 30 years, according to a 2006 year-end report [PDF text; press release] issued by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) [advocacy website]. The DPIC reported that there were at most 114 death sentences issued in 2006, as opposed to 128 in 2005 and the 1996 high of 317. In addition, only 53 executions were carried out, as opposed to the 60 performed in 2005. Deborah Fleischaker, director of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project [official website], cited a lack of public confidence in the death penalty as a result of the possibility of making mistakes, illuminated by the release of 123 people from questionable death row sentences since 1976.

On Tuesday, a New Jersey State commission recommended [JURIST report] that the state abolish the death penalty completely, replacing it with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. If the commission's report makes its way into law New Jersey will become the first US jurisdiction to ban capital punishment in over 35 years. In December, Florida Governor Jeb Bush suspended all executions [JURIST report] in that state after a lethal injection execution there was botched, and a federal judge in California effectively suspended capital punishment there [JURIST report] by ruling that that state's lethal injection procedure creates "an undue and unnecessary risk" of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. AP has more.

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