The country is expected to finish 2009 with the fewest death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to a report released Dec. 18 by the Death Penalty Information Center.
Eleven states considered abolishing the death penalty this year, a significant increase in legislative activity from previous years, as the high costs and lack of measurable benefits associated with this punishment troubled lawmakers.
“The annual number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped for seven straight years and is 60 percent less than in the 1990s,” said Richard Dieter, the report’s author and center's executive director. “In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping. This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty." There were 106 death sentences in 2009 compared with a high of 328 in 1994.