Death Penalty Sentences Have Dropped Considerably in the Current Decade

Compared to the 1990’s, there has been a marked decline in death sentences in the U.S. since 2000. Every region of the country and every state that averaged one or more death sentences per year have seen a decline in the annual number of death sentences. The chart below compares the annual number of death sentences in each state in the 1990s with the 2000s. North Carolina, California, Florida, and Texas experienced the greatest declines in sentencing.  This issue and others are addressed in the Death Penalty Information Center’s Year End Report, released December 11, 2008.



On a percentage basis, death sentences in the country dropped 62% between 1998 and 2007.  Doubts about the reliability of the death penalty coupled with the availability of life-without-parole sentences have likely contributed to the drop in death sentences.  The overall drop in death sentences during the 2000s occurred even though the murder rate remained approximately constant during the past seven years. In 2007, the last year for which data are available, the national murder rate was 5.6 murders per 100,000 people, a small decrease from 5.7 in 2006 and a small increase from 5.5 in 2000. 

A notable exception to this pattern is the federal death penalty, where the average number of death sentences has increased since 2000. The federal death penalty law was expanded in 1994 and the Bush administration put an emphasis on using the federal law more broadly.

See Sentencing. Posted Dec. 19, 2008.