[JURIST] The number of executions in the US in 2007 reached the lowest level in 13 years, according to the 2007 year-end report [PDF text; press release] issued by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) [advocacy website] on Tuesday. DPIC reported that there were 42 executions carried out in 2007, compared to 53 in 2006 and 98 in 1998, the highest number since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. In 1994, there were 31 executions. The report also notes that the 110 death penalty sentences issued in 2007 was the lowest of any year since reinstatement.
The report attributes some of the drop in death penalty sentences and executions to the Supreme Court's decision in September granting certiorari [JURIST report] in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition], a case where the Court will consider whether lethal injections of death row inmates constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Lawyers for death row inmate Baze argue that the three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] used in Kentucky and many other states constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. Since the US Supreme Court accepted the Baze case, courts have stayed executions in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida [JURIST reports]. The New York Times has more.