Skip to comments.U.S. death sentences drop to 30-year low
Posted on 01/04/2007 3:04:34 PM PST by NormsRevenge
The number of death sentences handed out in the United States dropped in 2006 to the lowest level since capital punishment was reinstated 30 years ago, reflecting what some experts say is a growing fear that the criminal justice system will make a tragic and irreversible mistake.
Executions fell, too, to the fewest in a decade.
"The death penalty is on the defensive," said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington organization that looks at problems with the capital punishment system.
Death sentences fell in 2006 to 114 or fewer, according to an estimate from the group. That is down from 128 in 2005, and even lower than the 137 sentences the year after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. It is also down sharply from the high of 317 in 1996.
A total of 53 executions were carried out in 2006, down from 60 in 2005. Executions over the past three decades peaked at 98 in 1999.
Among the many causes given by prosecutors, lawyers and death penalty critics: the passage of more state laws that allow juries to impose life without parole; an overall drop in violent crime; and a reluctance among some authorities to pursue the death penalty because of the high costs of prosecuting a capital case.
But above all, many said, is the possibility of a mistake, made dramatically clear in recent years. Since the death penalty was reinstated, 123 people have been freed from death row after significant questions were raised about their convictions 14 of them through DNA testing, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
"The fact is they've gotten a lot of the wrong guys," said Deborah Fleischaker, director of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. "There's no question that has, in the public, created a lot of doubt about how the death penalty is working."
The turn away from the ultimate punishment also reflects a changing sentiment among juries and prosecutors, too, said Arthur Green, district attorney in Bessemer County, Ala., outside of Birmingham. He said he considers the risk of executing an innocent person in deciding whether to pursue the death penalty.
"That's one reason I don't do it, except in very, very rare circumstances one, that I'm convinced he or she did it, and number two, it's a horrible crime," Green said. He has sought and won two capital cases since becoming district attorney in 2001.
Thirty-seven of the 38 states that have the death penalty on their books now also allow for life without parole. Texas enacted such a law in 2005. Life-without-parole laws give another option to jurors who fear that the death penalty is the only way to keep a killer from getting out on the streets again.
The death penalty has also received more scrutiny from lawmakers around the country and the courts.
Illinois is in the seventh year of its moratorium on executions, and executions are effectively halted in New York because of a 2004 court ruling.
Also, questions about whether lethal injection is inhumane have put executions on hold in nine states Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio and South Dakota and in the federal system.
This week in New Jersey, a special commission recommended that the state become the first to abolish the death penalty legislatively since 1976, citing "increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency."
Backers of capital punishment say support for the death penalty remains strong, despite the drop-off in death sentences.
"It's a refinement. I don't think it's an abandonment of the death penalty, but a recognition that the death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst," said Joshua Marquis, district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., and a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association.
"From prosecutors, there's a more discriminating attitude about which cases to bring," he said. "Juries have been much more picky about allocating the death penalty and I think that's an appropriate thing to do."
A Gallup poll in May found that two-thirds of Americans 18 and older support the death penalty. But when asked which is the better penalty for murder, roughly half said life without parole and about half said the death penalty.
That's too bad. I was hoping for a 30 year high.
Yeah, or an all-time high. Last number I saw in 2004 was 16,000 murders, but only about 130 death sentences....less than 1%, I think, of those who are gone are given justice by taking the life that took theirs.
Me too. Having huge backlogs doesn't help anybody. Texas was doing very well with its backlog in the late 90s, with Tuesdays and Thursdays being execution nights. W had the line moving smoothly. But I would have prefered AM and PM executions Mon-Fri, and only AM execution on Saturdays. That way you can award the DP to many more without fear of overcrowding.
Notice that crime rates are up for the first time in years.
Notice that crime rates are up for the first time in years.
hush now. It's just a fluke , I'm sure. ;-)
It always surprises me how gung ho people are on the death penalty. Some people seem to have absolute faith in the criminal judicial process even when those same individuals don't trust the government to do anything else correctly, and/or do not trust judges to rule correctly on the constitutionality of legislation.
Or is it that you all feel that the occasional sacrifice of innocent men is necessary to keep crime in check?
With Democratic mayors and governors in the major cities, you can expect the murder rate to keep going up. O'Mallory made Baltimore into one of the top "murder capitals" in the US and now he is going to do it to the whole state of Maryland.
Philadelphia's mayor is a total disgrace and coward.
Bloomberg in NYC is missing a few marbles, even if he is a RINO.
Check out Chicago, St. Louis/E. St. Louis, LA, Detroit, Atlanta, etc.
Over 20 years ago I wrote a column in the Baltimore News American entitled "An Executed Murderer Can Never Kill Again".
That is the only important consideration for using the death penalty. Everything else is just useless debating.
Well put. The military sacrifices themselves by the thousands for protecting the country, what's wrong with a handful of civilians doing the same? Especially when you consider most have violent criminal records anyway.
On a year-to-year, is it possible that death penalty convictions tend to be a lagging indicator with regard to the actual murder rate?
In other words, as overall crime increases, is there a point when juries, (society in general), says, "Enough is enough."
Could the inverse also be true?
That is not the only reason. Locking a person up for good can also assure the same thing. The DP is an act of punishment, pure and simple.
However one of the main benefits of the death penalty is lost when executions are carried out behind closed doors. If executions are meant to deter, an example has to made of the execution process, since most murderers dont give much thought to it before commiting their crimes. Public executions are pretty much out of the question, so an execution channel on broadcast tv may not be a bad idea.
There are very few cases where a convict's absolute and objective innocence is demonstrated.
The only question, really, is whether the few genuine instances where it is an actual fact can support the sweeping pov of the leftists who are more interested in undermining our society out of hatred for America.
Doesn't matter much anyway because, in addition to their mostly phony "innocence" projects, they have waged a more effective campaingn to eliminate the death penalty.
They have made death penalty cases into financial sinkholes, where the budgets of local district attorneys and of states are the true target of their litigation.
Like a lot of leftist thinking, it is based not on the truth or on fair dealing. It is driven by the fundamental liberal/leftist principle, that the ends justify any means. (Strange, that is the same fundamental principle held by mohammed-worshippers.)
Leftists/liberals have, once again, defeated something not on the merits, but on their ability to attack on a totally irrelevant basis: this is, the cost of prosecuting a death penalty case.
The verdict for a SF gang banger just came in today in SF. The jury convicted him of 2nd degree murder.
The perp, a gangbanger (16 or 17) out to make a name had bragged about taking a cop out, he gunned down a young police officer with an AK47.
The SF DA , Kamala Harris, would not go for the death penalty, but she fully supports life in prison without parole. She should be removed from office, but being as this is SF much less California, he'll grow old and fat in prison.
A couple week ago another police officer was killed while attempting to detain another "model citizen" who should have still been in lockup, he ended up shooting an officer in the head,,,
Fortunately the SF DA didn't get a crack at getting this perp life in prison, another officer put him down hard when they cornered him.
I can't argue with that thought, but I'll never feel gleeful about executions the way some here do, knowing that the occasional (if rare) innocent is caught in the gears of justice.
I was being facetious. Of course the system should be 110% certain of guilt before putting a person to death.