Death Penalty
May 13, 2014
Will capital punishment be abolished in America?

Capital punishment is gradually fading from the American criminal justice system, and fewer criminals are being sentenced to death in states that still impose the death penalty. In 2013 Maryland became the 18th state to ban the death penalty, and only nine states accounted for the 39 executions conducted nationwide. Critics say capital punishment does little to deter serious crime, leads to executions of innocent people and is used disproportionately in cases involving minority and poor criminals. Death-penalty states also face growing pressure over lethal injection, as sources of traditional drugs dry up and states are forced to try new drug combinations. After Oklahoma botched an execution in April, President Obama called for a federal review of protocols used in state executions. Meanwhile, support for capital punishment has gradually diminished, though the practice continues to have widespread support in some states.

Death row inmate Henry “Hank” Skinner makes a phone call from inside the Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, where Skinner has been on death row since 1995 for the murder of a woman and her two sons. State attorneys are reviewing DNA evidence that suggests Skinner could have been wrongly convicted.(AFP/Getty Images/Nicholas Kamm.)   Death row inmate Henry “Hank” Skinner makes a phone call from inside the Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, where Skinner has been on death row since 1995 for the murder of a woman and her two sons. State attorneys are reviewing DNA evidence that suggests Skinner could have been wrongly convicted. Texas accounted for 16 of the 39 executions carried out in the United States in 2013. (AFP/Getty Images/Nicholas Kamm.)

The death penalty is slowly fading from the U.S. criminal justice system, even as the national crime rate remains low. In 2013, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to ban capital punishment and the 18th ever to enact such a ban. 1 However, capital punishment opponents still face an uphill battle to persuade courts and lawmakers to outlaw the procedure in every state.

A repeal effort failed by a single vote in the New Hampshire Senate in April after passing by a wide margin in the Democratic-led House and a vow by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan that she would sign such a bill. New Hampshire thus became the only New England state with a capital punishment law. 2

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