New Death Sentences Hit 35-Year Low

Just 78 sentenced this year: new report

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 15, 2011 7:53 AM CST

(Newser) – The number of death sentences handed down this year dropped 30% compared to last, hitting the lowest level in 35 years, according to a new report. Just 78 people were sentenced to death this year—marking "the first time we've had fewer than 100 new death sentences in a year in the modern era of capital punishment," says the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, the nonprofit behind the report. In addition, 43 people were executed, compared to 46 last year, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The drop is due partly to less violent crime—down nearly 35% over the past 20 years—and changing sentencing laws, which, in the last decade, now prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded, minors, and those who committed a crime other than murder. More factors: Some states are reluctant to hand down death sentences due to the high cost of pursuing them (an average of $3 million in Maryland, compared to $1.1 million when the death penalty is not sought). Public support for the death penalty has also declined recently, as have the number of states that have the sentence on the books: 34. This year, Texas executed the most people—13—followed by Alabama with six.

Death sentences dropped in 2011.
Death sentences dropped in 2011.   (Shutterstock)
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