Death Penalty

Fewer than 100 Death Sentences Imposed in 2011; Is 'Growing Discomfort' the Reason?

The number of U.S. death sentences imposed this year fell below 100—the lowest number in 35 years.

Seventy-eight new inmates were sentenced to death this year, compared to 112 last year and 224 in 2000. The Death Penalty Information Center released the latest statistics in its year-end report (PDF), USA Today reports. The center claims the reduced numbers reflect a “growing discomfort” with the death penalty.

A press release quotes the center’s executive director, Richard Dieter. “Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011,” he said.

A Gallup poll this year found that 61 percent of Americans support the death penalty, the lowest level in 40 years.

In recent developments, Illinois abolished the death penalty in March, making it the fourth state in four years to do so. The others are New Mexico, New Jersey and New York. In November, Oregon’s governor announced a moratorium on executions. Overall, 34 states, including Oregon, permit capital punishment while 16 states don’t authorize it.

There have been 1,277 executions since 1976 when the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gregg v. Georgia that the death penalty is constitutional as long as standards prevent arbitrary punishment. Texas accounted for 37 percent of the total executions since that time.

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