Death Penalty
July 7, 2015
Will opponents of capital punishment continue to gain ground?

Opposition to capital punishment is gaining ground across the nation, although the death penalty is still allowed in 31 states and for federal crimes. In May, Nebraska became the latest state to abolish the death penalty, and several others have placed moratoriums on executions while courts examine the issue. Fifty-six percent of Americans now support the death penalty, according to one poll, a drop of 22 percentage points from peak support in 1996 and a 6 percentage point drop from 2011. Opponents cite factors such as rising costs, questions of innocence and botched executions in their arguments against capital punishment, while proponents say it is important to public safety. In June, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of lethal injections using a controversial drug.

Death penalty opponents stand outside the courthouse where Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was formally sentenced to death on June 24, 2015. Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984, but Tsarnaev was tried for federal crimes that still carry the death penalty. (Getty Images/The Boston Globe/Pat Greenhouse)   Death penalty opponents stand outside the courthouse where Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was formally sentenced to death on June 24, 2015. Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984, but Tsarnaev was tried for federal crimes that still carry the death penalty. (Getty Images/The Boston Globe/Pat Greenhouse)

The death sentence given to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reignited debate about capital punishment. During the spring trial of the 21-year-old Chechen accused of killing three people and wounding more than 250 at the 2013 race, a poll found that 62 percent of Boston residents favored a sentence of life imprisonment if he was found guilty and only 27 percent wanted him executed. Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984 for state crimes, but Tsarnaev was tried in a federal court. 1

Thirty-one states and the federal government continue to allow the death penalty. As of early 2015, 3,019 inmates awaited execution across the country. 2 The momentum to abolish capital punishment is growing among both conservatives and liberals, however. On May 27, Nebraska’s majority-Republican lawmakers overrode their governor’s veto of a bill to abolish that state’s death penalty, making Nebraska the 19th state to ban capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court revived the penalty in 1976. 3

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