The Decline of the U.S. Death Penalty in Two Charts

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 19 2013 12:26 PM

The Decline of the U.S. Death Penalty in Two Charts

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The chart above comes courtesy of the Death Penalty Information Center, a not-for-profit group that opposes executions and tracks the issue. As you can see, the number of people put to death by the U.S. criminal justice system continued to fall in 2013, nearly reaching its lowest point since the capital punishment was reinstated back in the 1970s. The 39 executions were only the second time in the past 19 years that fewer than 40 people were put to death, according to the group.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

One reason for the drop in executions is obvious, and can be seen in the chart below. Simply put, states have been sending significantly fewer criminals to death row over the past decade. The center projects that there will be only 80 new death sentences handed out this year—three more than last year, yes, but significantly below the the peak of 315 given in 1994 and again in 1996.

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The steady drop is partly do to the fact that there are simply fewer states where capital punishment is legal. Maryland this year became the sixth state in as many years to abolish the death penalty all together, bringing the total number of execution-free states to 18. Out of the remaining 32 states, meanwhile, only nine carried out a single execution in 2013. Texas, as you might guess, led the way with 16, followed by Florida (with 7), Oklahoma (6), Ohio (3), Arizona (2), Missouri (2), and Alabama, Georgia and Virginia with one each.

The overall downward trend mirrors the public opinion about capital punishment. According to Gallup, public support for the death penalty reached a 40-year low earlier this year. But the Associated Press points out another, less-obvious reason for the recent drop: many of the drugs used in lethal injections are made in Europe, and some governments there have banned the exportation of those drugs as part of their opposition to the death penalty.

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