That's the title of Ethan Bronner's report in today's New York Times.
Thirty-six years after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, its use is waning, with prosecutors and juries preferring to sentence convicted murderers to life in prison without parole. New data for 2012 show that nine states executed inmates this year, the fewest in two decades, and the number of death sentences handed down this year — 80 — was about a third of the total in 2000.
“We have done polling on this, and the biggest reason is lingering doubt about guilt,” said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks executions around the country and released the numbers this week. “Between 90 and 95 percent of the people are aware that there have been exonerations based on DNA evidence.”
While a majority of states — 33 — still have the death penalty on the books, that number has also been on the decline. Connecticut banned capital punishment this year, the fifth state in five years to do so, following Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Twenty-nine states either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years.
In addition, four states with histories of executing convicted murderers — Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — sentenced no one to death this year. Three-quarters of the 43 people put to death in 2012 were in four states: Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.
Another major reason for the decline is that the death penalty involves enormous expense and numerous appeals; some prosecutors say they prefer life imprisonment.
Stan Garnett, the district attorney in Boulder County, Colo., wrote recently that as his state considered repealing the death penalty, he would like his fellow citizens to know that he was “not morally or philosophically opposed” to it. But he considers the death penalty impractical because it is expensive, time-consuming and often unfairly applied.
There has been extensive coverage of the DPIC annual report, rt, The Death Penalty in 2012: Year End Report. A news release and additional information is also available at the DPIC website. Earlier news coverage of the report begins at the link.
Let me also link to several notable articles on the report. "Texas Still Leads Nation in Executions," is Jordan Smith's post at the Austin Chronicle.
Indeed, in its year-end report, released today, the Death Penalty Information Center notes that the number of executions this year was the same as in 2011, but that overall executions have declined 49% since 2000. Moreover, while the number of new death sentences imposed nationwide in 2012 wasn't as low as it was in 2011, the number of new death sentences has declined 75% from the high of 315 new sentences imposed in 1996. Among those sent to death row in the mid-Nineties was Damon Thibodeaux, who confessed to the rape and murder of his cousin, a crime he did not commit. In September, Thibodeaux became the 300th person exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Network's's report on 2012 exonerations.
Stateline posts, "Report: Death Penalty Becoming 'Irrelevant'," by Maggie Clark.
Only nine states executed death row inmates in 2012 and the number of new death sentences, at 78, was nearly the lowest number of new sentences issued since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s year-end report, released today (December 18).
The punishment also came under attack this year from advocates in California, who narrowly lost a death penalty repeal campaign headlined by supportive district attorneys, judges, victims’ families and former prison officials.
Based on these trends, says Richard Dieter, executive director of the center, “the death penalty appears to be an increasingly irrelevant component of our criminal justice system. It still exists, but as far as using it as a response to crime, it’s not the norm and it’s not carried out uniformly across the country.”
While the trend of the last 10 years shows that death sentences and executions are declining, one state did act this year to speed up its death penalty process. In May, South Dakota passed legislation limiting death row inmates to one post-conviction appeal which must be filed within two years of their convictions. The state executed two people this year, its first executions since 2007.