Fascinating news out of the Death Penalty Information Center:  in 2011, there were only 43 executions after 2010’s 46 and 78 new death sentences were given to defendants in 2011 after 112 in 2010.  That’s the big news: 112 down to 78 new sentences of death is record-breaking. 

Read the DPIC Report online here (or download the pdf).

Right now, lots of discussion is taking place as to the reasons why this is happening. 

  • It means that capital punishment is not being given to those defendants found guilty of crimes. 
  • It means that there may be less prosecutions seeking the death penalty in their cases, too. 
  • And, hat tip to the defense bar, it may also mean that defense attorneys are doing an excellent job of convincing juries of the mitigating circumstances that exist in cases that should thwart a sentence of death. 

So, what is going on?

The DPIC points out that Gallup Polls have a falling number of Americans that support the death penalty, too.  Gallup shows 61% support the death penalty now; that’s down from 68% in 2001.

A Fordham law professor opines that media coverage plays a factor here: not only are folk more aware of the reality that innocents do get convicted (and sentenced to death) but that capital cases are much more expensive for state budgets. She also explained to USA Today that the U.S.Supreme Court has issued opinions that have narrowed when the death penalty can be used (i.e., limiting it regarding minors or the mentally challenged). 

This is a hot topic and lots of discussion is going to be had on 2011 as the Year We Went Under 100 Death Sentences for a long while.  There’s obviously a number of factors at play. 

One thing that might need to be discussed more: the fact that the states are in a quandary about how to kill, what with all the constitutional issues involved in lethal injection these days and the relunctance to return to old standbys like firing squads or electric chairs.