US execution rate now half that of decade ago: report

US execution rate now half that of decade ago: report

[JURIST] The number of executions that took place in the US in 2009 was down 47 percent from 10 years ago, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) [advocacy website] annual report [text, PDF; press release, PDF] released Friday. There were 52 executions in 2009, compared to 98 in 1999. The report also emphasized that the number of death sentences handed down in 2009 – 106 – is the lowest since the US Supreme Court [official website] reinstated the death penalty in 1976. According to the report, the rate of death sentences has been falling for the past seven years, and there is expanding support for putting an end to the death penalty:

In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping. This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty.

Also this year, a nationwide poll of police chiefs showed that the death penalty is at the bottom of priorities among those with experience in law enforcement. The chiefs did not believe the death penalty acted as a deterrent, and they rated it as one of the most inefficient uses of taxpayer money in fighting crime. Challenges to the death penalty came from all quarters, including former Texas Governor Mark White and conservative strategist Richard Viguerie, who expressed doubts about the reliability of this governmental program.

While the report did show that the number of executions increased from 37 in 2008, it attributed those numbers to a backlog of cases resulting from a de facto moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty.

The trends are similar to those observed in the DPIC's 2008 report [text, PDF; JURIST report]. Last year, executions in the US were at a 14-year low and the number of death sentences had dropped 60 percent since the 1990s. In 2008, 95 percent of executions took place in the South, compared to 87 percent for 2009. Executions resumed in the US in April 2008 after the US Supreme Court lifted an effective ban on the death penalty by upholding the constitutionality of lethal injection [JURIST report].