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Death Penalty Use Plummets to 35-Year Low

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on December 16, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The death penalty in America may be dying a slow death, a new report suggests.

Fewer convicted killers are facing the death penalty than at any time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment, according to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center. The Center is opposed to how the death penalty is currently used, The Wall Street Journal reports.

So far this year, 78 death sentences have been handed down nationwide -- the fewest in a single year since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

Executions also declined, the report says. So far this year, 43 prisoners have been executed -- a 56% decrease compared to 1999, when 98 prisoners were put to death.

"It's indicative of a mood around the country that the death penalty has risks, flaws and needs to be reexamined," the report's author told Reuters.

Experts cite falling crime rates and the rising cost of litigating death-penalty cases as the key reasons for the death penalty's decline, the Journal reports.

Still, a majority of Americans -- 61% -- continue to support the death penalty for convicted murderers, according to a Gallup Poll in October. That is the lowest level of death-penalty support in nearly 40 years, Reuters reports.

The death penalty is already outlawed in 16 states. Illinois' governor approved a death-penalty ban in January, and Oregon's governor announced last month that no more executions would take place during his term in office. In Ohio, the Supreme Court's Chief Justice has assigned a task force to address problems related to the death penalty's use.

The U.S. Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976 after a four-year hiatus. The Court at first found the death penalty was being arbitrarily applied, but later approved its use in extreme cases, provided that states provide more protections for prisoners in their sentencing procedures.

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