Capital Punishment in U.S. Fall to Four-Decade Low in 2016

Poll shows 49% Americans in favor of death penalty

A study undertaken by Death Penalty Information Center found that fewer death penalties were handed down this year than any time in the last 40 years.

The death penalty was reinstated in 1976 after a four years hiatus, and only 30 such penalties were imposed in 2016, the fewest since 1991.

Out of these 30, only 20 executions were carried out in five states, with Georgia leading with nine executions, Texas seven, Alabama two, and one each by Florida and Missouri.

The report also indicated that this downward trend started 20 years ago, and judges have been giving capital punishments to fewer people.

After the capital punishment had been reinstated, the numbers started rising steadily with 137 death penalties in 1977. The number peaked in the 1990s with 315 executions in 1996. Then the downward trend began and the year 2016 saw a 37% decline from last year.

Fewer death sentences were imposed in 2016 than in any other year since the Supreme Court declared US death penalty statutes unconstitutional in… 1972.

The halt and slowed executions can be explained in light of the complexities of legal challenges, and in some states by the difficulty of procuring drugs for lethal injections. The European Union has banned the export of such drugs to U.S. and many pharmaceutical companies decline to provide them.

The number of men and women exonerated so far in the U.S. is 156.

Various polls conducted nationwide show a mixed result. The Pow Research Center Poll shows that 49% of the American people supported the capital punishment, the number was as high as 80% in the 1990s.

The supporters of the death penalty argue these claims, and say that the majority of people are for the capital punishment.

During the election season this year, three states had questions related to the death penalty on the ballot, and all three states voted in line to the death penalty proponents.

After the death penalty had been banned by legislators in 2015, Nebraska voted to bring the capital punishment back. Californians voted to expedite the executions rather than abolish it, and new constitutional language was approved in Oklahoma to protect the use of capital punishment.

A death penalty expert, Frank Zimring and also a professor at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law conceded that general public would not approve this downward trend in the use of death penalty. He also added that it took time for the public at large to concur when other nations abolished the death penalty, citing Western Europe as an example.

Although the precipitous decline in the number of death penalty cases show that the criminal justice system in the U.S. is moving away from capital punishment, complete abolition may still be a long way off.

Mr. Zimring concluded that:-

The end game is going to be long and expensive and in a deep way, unnecessary. That’s billions of dollars and many too many executions in the American future.