The Death of the Death Penalty?

The Atlantic: “National support for the death penalty is still in decline. A new Pew poll released last week found that 56 percent of Americans now support the death penalty, a decline of over 20 percent from its peak in 1996. Opposition to it rose to 38 percent. These numbers might still seem good for capital-punishment proponents, even considering the overall trend of decline, but they mask a deeper shift.”

“On paper, thirty-two states and the federal government currently allow capital punishment. But in practice, the death penalty has been largely abandoned throughout most of the United States. Juries now sentence fewer defendants to death than at any time since the Supreme Court lifted its de facto moratorium in 1976.”

“Not only are death sentences declining overall and within the most execution-oriented states, the remaining sentences are largely concentrated in a few county-level enclaves … Of the 3,144 counties or their equivalents in the United States, just 29 counties averaged more than one death sentence a year. ‘That 1 percent of counties accounts for roughly 44 percent of all death sentences’ since 1976 … Prosecutorial discretion is an unseen but elementary force that guides the criminal-justice system. Nowhere is that force’s impact better quantified than capital punishment.”

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