The number of U.S. executions hit a 13-year low this year, mostly because of a de facto moratorium on the death penalty prompted by challenges against the use of lethal injection, says the Washington Post. There were 42 executions in 2007, down from 53 last year and the lowest number since 31 people were put to death in 1994, says the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Jan. 7 in a lethal injection challenge. Richard Dieter, the center’s executive director, said that while lethal injection challenges are the immediate cause of the slowdown, “the pattern over the years is broader than that.” The group estimates at 110 the number of death sentences imposed in 2007, the fewest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The number of death sentences peaked in 1999 at 277. This week, New Jersey became the first state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty.