Support for Death Penalty Declines

Richard Dieter, executive director of the death penalty center.

By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times Even as Californians voted to maintain the death penalty, the nation’s support for capital punishment continued to wane in 2012, with relatively few states performing executions. Only nine states executed inmates in 2012, and three-fourths of the executions occurred in Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma and Mississippi, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a monitoring group critical of capital punishment. Connecticut became the fifth state in five years to abolish capital punishment. California, whose voters rejected a November ballot measure to repeal the death penalty, is not expected to resume executions for three years, according to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. Litigation has blocked executions in California for nearly seven years. Despite its unused execution chamber, California’s death row, already the largest in the nation, continued to swell in 2012. Fourteen inmates were added, mostly from Los Angeles and Riverside counties. Nationally, there were fewer than 80 new death sentences, the second-lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the center said. Florida led the country with 21 new death sentences. Following California were Texas, with nine, and Pennsylvania, with seven. Those four states accounted for almost 65% of the 2012 death sentences, the center said. “The big picture is a declining use or less support for the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the death penalty center. Even California’s vote on the death penalty contained some good news for foes of capital punishment. Nearly half the voters — 48% — favored repeal, despite the state’s long-standing support for capital punishment. Dieter said capital sentences in the United States have dropped 75% since their high point in 1996, a trend he attributed to concerns about executing the innocent and the relatively high cost of administering capital punishment. Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty, said the numbers show that the use of capital punishment has “plateaued.” “A lot of people who would support the death penalty generally are weary of the battle and think it won’t actually be enforced,” Scheidegger said. California’s death penalty supporters are mulling over the possibility of launching a ballot initiative that would speed up legal review of death sentences. “Probably the most important thing looking forward is to get the logjam broken,” Scheidegger said. A federal judge in 2006 blocked executions after determining that the state’s method of execution posed risks that inmates could suffer inhumanely.
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