Is The Death Penalty On Its Way Out?

Death Penalty

Here’s hoping. The Economist examines US capital punishment trends:

Even if all the executions scheduled for this year are carried out—which is unlikely—a total of 33 would be the lowest since 1994, and would have fallen by two-thirds from the peak of 98 in 1999 (see chart). In 2013 American juries handed out just 80 death sentences: a slight increase from the previous year, but still close to the lowest level in 40 years. As of October 1st 2013, 3,088 Americans were on death row—down from a peak in 2000 of 3,593.

Update from a reader:

The Economist‘s chart fails to note that many of the states listed as still having the death penalty have actually instituted moratoria. Those states include: California, Colorado, North Carolina, Arkansas, Oregon, Kentucky and Washington.

An accompanying piece from the magazine has more on the subject:

America is unusual among rich countries in that it still executes people. It does so because its politicians are highly responsive to voters, who mostly favour the death penalty. However, that majority is shrinking, from 80% in 1994 to 60% last year. Young Americans are less likely to support it than their elders. Non-whites, who will one day be a majority, are solidly opposed. Six states have abolished it since 2007, bringing the total to 18 out of 50. The number of executions each year has fallen from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 39 last year …

Its advocates insist that it deters murderers, thereby saving lives. If this were true, it would be a powerful argument, but there is scant evidence that it is. The murder rate is far higher in America than in the European Union, which has no death penalty. It is also higher in American states that carry out executions than in states that do not. Granted, some studies have found that, if you control for other factors that also influence crime rates, you can make the case that each execution prevents three murders, or five, or even 18. But such studies are based on thin data and questionable assumptions. There were nearly 15,000 murders in America in 2012. The chance of any individual killer being executed is thus microscopic—and distant, since the appeals process can grind on for decades.