The death penalty is dwindling in the U.S., says a Washington Post editorial, citing the Death Penalty Information Center conclusion that death sentences and executions remain at or near historically low levels since the Supreme Court's 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty and the death-row population decline from its peak of 3,593 in 2000 to 3,108 this year, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Two states that rarely carry out executions, California and Pennsylvania, account for nearly a third of those condemned prisoners.
Capital-punishment foes attribute the death penalty's decline to waning public support amid concerns about innocent defendants on death row and other flaws in the system, but the Post says declining murder totals are another big part of the story. The 2012 murder rate, 4.7 per 100,000 population, was among the lowest recorded since 1963. The reasons for violent crime's extended decline are not well understood — and the fact that the 2012 murder rate was unchanged from 2011 implies that the years of rapid improvement may be ending. Violent crime remains far more common in the United States than in other advanced industrial countries.