The population on Maryland’s death row has fallen by half in under 3 1/2 years, falling into the single digits for the first time since the 1980s, reports the Washington Post. Neither executions nor exonerations account for the decrease from 18 to 9. The state has not put anybody to death since 1998. The attrition is due to other factors, from reversals in the cases to the impact of court rulings elsewhere. Victims’ families have told prosecutors not to seek death in instances where inmates win resentencing. Life in prison without parole, a sentence not available to judges and juries in the past, has diverted some defendants.
The trend in Maryland reflects a nationwide decline in executions and the death row population. Preliminary data indicate that 50 percent fewer capital sentences were handed down in 2003 compared with 1999, says the Death Penalty Information Center, which is critical of the system.
Even in Virginia, which once placed second only to Texas in annual executions, a shift has occurred. The state put to death just two people last year. None of the 27 men and one woman on death row there has an execution date.
Says law professor Scott Sundby of Washington and Lee University: “If you’d talked to me five or six years ago, I would have predicted a steady escalation in sentencing and particularly in the execution rate. But clearly that’s not happened,” he said. “The crosscurrents, like El Niño, have changed, and they’ve dramatically changed the climate.”