Executions and death sentences in the U.S. reached multiyear lows this year, the Wall Street Journal reports. There were 35 people executed in seven states, the fewest since 1994, says the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. The 72 people sentenced to death this year was the lowest total since 1974. The figures continue a downward trend that reaches back to the 1990s.
In 1999, the high-water mark for executions, 98 inmates were put to death. In each of the years from 1994 to 1996, more than 300 people were sent to death row. The decrease in death sentences began alongside a rise in the use of DNA evidence in the 1990s. “For the first time, you had this airtight, scientific evidence cutting down convictions,” said law Prof. Deborah Denno of Fordham University. Also affecting the number of death sentences has been the rise in “life-without-parole” penalties, which have been adopted by more than half the states since the 1990s. Such sentences have presented prosecutors and juries with an alternative to the death penalty for violent or heinous crimes.