After a recent U.S. Justice Department report that the number of death sentences imposed last year hit a 30-year low, capital punishment opponents read the decline as part of growing public uneasiness over exonerations based on DNA evidence, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Supporters say the drop simply reflects a decline in murder rates and changes in sentencing laws. Only 144 new inmates were sent to death row last year, down from a high of 320 in 1996. The number of executions carried out is falling, as well as the number of murder cases submitted for capital-punishment consideration.
In Florida, almost 40 people were sent to death row annually in the 1990s. By 2001, that number was 16, and now it is only eight. In Ohio, death sentences have been cut by almost a third since the state enacted a life-without-parole law in 1996. Texas, with 446 inmates on death row, is the exception to the national trend. The state continues to put an average of 34 people on death row each year, and many experts point to the fact that Texas juries do not have the range of options that exist in other states. The choice is between life with parole and death. “When juries in Texas consider what is an appropriate sentence, life with parole has got risks associated with it,” says Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes the punishment. “But polls show that the public wants alternatives to the death penalty.”