Only 30 people were sentenced to death in the United States this year, the lowest number since the early 1970s and a further sign of the steady decline in the use of the death penalty. The number is a sharp drop from the 49 death sentences last year and just a fraction of the peak of 315 in 1996, according to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that opposes capital punishment and tracks the issue. "I think we are watching a major political climate change concerning capital punishment and it's reflected among reduced death sentences across the country," says Robert Dunham, the group's executive director.
The growing reluctance of juries to sentence defendants to death is one of several factors contributing to the overall drop in executions. Twenty people were executed this year, the fewest since 1991, when 14 people were put to death. Capital punishment remains legal in 31 states, but only five states conducted executions this year, the fewest number of states to do so since 1983. Georgia led the way with nine, followed by Texas with seven, two in Alabama, and one each in Missouri and Florida. About half of Americans still support the death penalty, according to a Pew Research Center poll earlier this year, but that's the lowest level in more than four decades. Public support for capital punishment peaked in the mid-1990s, when 80% of Americans favored it. (This year, Nebraska voted to bring back the death penalty.)