The number of death sentences imposed by juries around the nation has dropped sharply since 1999, says the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. In 1999, 276 death sentences were imposed, the Los Angeles Times reports. The figure has dropped every year since, falling to 125 last year. This year, 96 death sentences are projected to be handed down, the lowest total since 1976. Harris County, Tx., in Houston, which has sent more people to death row than any other county in the state that leads the nation in executions, has generated only two death sentences this year.
Center director Richard Dieter noted that jurors in all but one of the 38 states that had capital punishment laws now are able to render sentences of life without parole. Jurors, he said, are becoming increasingly comfortable with voting for such sentences rather than death. Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Astoria, Or., and spokesman for the National District Attorneys Association on death penalty issues, believes that executions are down because of the overall decrease in violent crime. He said that that tough sentencing laws – such as three strikes, mandatory minimums and death sentences – “have had a clear deterrent effect.” A significant majority of Americans supports the death penalty, 64 percent in the latest Gallup poll, down from 80 percent in 1994. The number of executions has dropped sharply, from 98 in 1999 to 60 in 2005. Texas led the field with 19 executions this year, a slight decrease from 23 in 2004 and a sharp decline from the peak year of 2000, when that state executed 40 people.