The death penalty in the U.S. has been declining since executions peaked in 1999, and the trend likely will continue in 2005, Stateline.org reports. Falling crime rates and revelations of innocent men being sentenced to death have eroded public support for capital punishment. Since the 1970s, 119 people in 25 states have been released from death row based on new exculpatory evidence, including two dozen in the past three years. Death sentences have dropped by 54 percent and executions by 40 percent since 1999, with significant reductions in all states that allow capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that opposes the capital punishment system.
Death penalty statutes in New York and Kansas were ruled unconstitutional by those states’ high courts in 2004. Executions have been suspended in Illinois by a moratorium and in New Jersey by a temporary injunction by the state’s high court. That leaves 34 states currently permitting executions. Legislation to repeal the death penalty or impose moratoriums on executions has been introduced in at least two dozen states in 2005. Only proposals in Connecticut and New Mexico have come to a vote; both were narrowly defeated. North Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would impose a moratorium on executions and establish a commission to investigate the state’s death penalty system.