USA: HISTORIC DECLINES IN DEATH PENALTY USE CONTINUE
December 21, 2016: Death sentences, executions, and public support for the death penalty continued their historic declines in 2016, according to DPIC's annual report, "The Death Penalty in 2016: Year End Report," released on December 21.
The 30 death sentences imposed this year are the fewest in the modern era of capital punishment in the U.S.âsince the Supreme Court declared all existing death penalty statutes unconstitutional in 1972âand declined 39% from 2015's already 40-year low. Just 20 people were executed in 2016, the fewest executions since 1991.
Both death sentences and executions were increasingly geographically isolated.
Two statesâGeorgia and Texasâaccounted for 80% of executions, and more than half of all death sentences were imposed in just three statesâCalifornia, Ohio, and Texas.
As in past years, those executed in 2016 often did not represent the âworst of the worst,â but rather those defendants who had mental health problems, inadequate representation, or insufficient judicial review. 60% of the 20 people executed in 2016 showed significant evidence of mental illness, brain impairment, and/or low intellectual functioning.
Election results reflected America's deep divisions about the death penalty, as voters in three states decided to retain the death penalty or add it to the state constitution, while voters in five of the highest-use death penalty counties replaced prosecutors who strongly supported the death penalty with candidates who promised reform and reductions in capital prosecutions.
Courts struck down practices in Arizona, Delaware, Florida, and Oklahoma that had contributed to disproportionately high numbers of death sentences. âAmerica is in the midst of a major climate change concerning capital punishment. While there may be fits and starts and occasional steps backward, the long-term trend remains clear,â said Robert Dunham, DPICâs Executive Director and the author of the report.
âWhether itâs concerns about innocence, costs, and discrimination, availability of life without parole as a safe alternative, or the questionable way in which states are attempting to carry out executions, the public grows increasingly uncomfortable with the death penalty each year.â
The report also includes a discussion of executions this year that involved inmates who had symptoms of severe mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or extreme trauma. It covers court developments across the country and features quotes from notable voices who spoke about the death penalty this year. (Source: DPIC, 21/12/2016)