Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The year 2016 marked a major decline in the number of executions and sentences to capital punishment in the United States, a new report says.
Last year there were 20 executions in the U.S., the lowest level in 25 years. The peak was in 1999, when 98 persons were executed.
Thirty death sentences were imposed in 2016, the lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. In 1996, death penalty sentences peaked at 315.
“America 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,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Dec. 16.
“Whether it’s 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,” Dunham said.
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Georgia had nine executions, Texas seven, Alabama two, and one each in Missouri and Florida, the report from the Death Penalty Information Center said.
The report charged that those executed in 2016 largely represented defendants with mental health problems, inadequate legal representation, or insufficient judicial review.
Sixty percent of the 20 people executed last year showed “significant evidence” of mental illness, brain impairment or low intellectual functioning.
The popularity of the death penalty also hit new lows.
The Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of Americans favored capital punishment for convicted murderers, an apparent one-year drop of seven percentage points, and down from a peak of 80 percent in 1995. About 42 of Americans said they opposed it, according to a 2016 poll.
Voters in three states voted to retain the death penalty or place it in the state constitution. However, the report said local elections showed support for prosecutor candidates who are less aggressive in pursuing the death penalty.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, factors contributing to the decline of executions included pharmaceutical industry measures to prevent states from using their drugs for use in executions and European Union regulations to prevent export of the drugs. A court order also directed the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the illegal importation of execution drugs.