An increasing number of states are abolishing capital punishment, and in states that retain it, fewer criminals are being sentenced to death. This year Maryland became the 18th state to ban the death penalty, and last year only nine states, led by Texas, accounted for all 43 executions nationwide. Critics argue that capital punishment does little to deter serious crime, has led to executions of innocent people and is more likely to be carried out against minority and poor criminals than white or wealthier ones. National opinion polls show that majority support for capital punishment is shrinking, though the practice retains widespread support in some states, especially among conservatives. The decline in capital punishment comes amid a general downward trend in serious crime and a renewed focus on mental health treatment for defendants accused of serious crime.
|Jean Boucher of Fairfax, Va., joins a vigil with other death penalty opponents outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 29, 2012, to mark the 40th anniversary of the landmark Furman v. Georgia decision, in which the court abolished the death penalty as then implemented. In 1976 the court allowed states to re-enact death penalty laws as long as the laws included sentencing safeguards. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)|
The death penalty is slowly fading from the U.S. criminal justice system, even as the national crime rate remains far below past levels. This year, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to ban capital punishment and the 18th state to enact a ban.
However, capital punishment opponents still face an uphill battle to persuade courts and lawmakers to outlaw the procedure. In late April, the Florida legislature passed a bill designed to shorten the appeals process for people sentenced to death — now 13 years long, on average — and hasten executions. “It’s about timely justice,” Republican state Sen. Robert Bradley said.