Thirty-six years after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, its use is waning, with prosecutors and juries preferring to sentence convicted murderers to life in prison without parole. New data for 2012 show that nine states executed inmates this year, the fewest in two decades, and the number of death sentences handed down this year 80 was about a third of the total in 2000.
We have done polling on this, and the biggest reason is lingering doubt about guilt, said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks executions around the country and released the numbers this week. Between 90 and 95 percent of the people are aware that there have been exonerations based on DNA evidence.
While a majority of states 33 still have the death penalty on the books, that number has also been on the decline. Connecticut banned capital punishment this year, the fifth state in five years to do so, following Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Twenty-nine states either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years.
In addition, four states with histories of executing convicted murderers Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia sentenced no one to death this year. Three-quarters of the 43 people put to death in 2012 were in four states: Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.