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Capital Punishment Sentences, Executions Decline in 2019

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The number of executions and new capital punishment sentences approached all-time lows in 2019, according to a Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) report published Dec. 17.

Death row inmates declined by 82 in 2019, and, continuing a five-year trend, fewer than 30 people were executed and less than 50 new capital punishment sentences handed out.

The 22 people executed in 2019 are 76 less than the all-time high of 98 in 1999, and the 33 new sentences of capital punishment are 282 less than the all-time high of 315 in 1996.

With New Hampshire abolishing the death penalty in 2019, 21 states no longer permit capital punishment sentences.

In the past five years, 38 states (and in the past 10 years 32 states) have issued no new capital punishment sentences and executed no prisoners.

Of the 31 states with people on death row, 20 saw an overall decline in prisoners under sentence of death in 2019, with Alabama (14-person decline) and California (11-person decline) seeing the sharpest drops.

Only Arizona, Arkansas and South Carolina saw an overall increase, with each state adding one person to death row in 2019. The remaining eight states saw no cumulative change.

Florida and Ohio had the highest number of new death sentences handed out in 2019 (both had 6), followed by Texas (4), Alabama (3), California (3), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (2), Arizona (1), Georgia (1) and Oklahoma (1).

Death row sentences and executions both trended upward during the 1980s and 1990s, before beginning a downward trend in 2000.

“States carried out 22 executions in 2019, the second fewest in 28 years. The only year since 1991 in which states conducted fewer executions was 2016, when 20 prisoners were put to death,” the report said. “Executions were more than 77% below the peak of 98 twenty years ago and were down slightly from the 25 executions conducted in 2018.”

Texas executed the highest number of persons in 2019 (9), followed by Alabama (3), Georgia (3), Tennessee (3), Florida (2), Missouri (1) and South Dakota (1).

There were 24 stays of execution issues by the courts in 2019, the report said, with “reasons ranging from irregularities in the issuance of the warrant, to concerns about the prisoner’s mental competency, to claims of innocence.”

In 2018, a Gallup survey found 49% of U.S. adults did not believe the death penalty is applied fairly, while a 2019 survey revealed that a strong majority (60%) believe life in prison without the possibility of parole is a better punishment for murder than the death penalty.

The DPIC report includes data through Dec. 10, 2019. The full report is available here.