In the face of growing evidence about the unreliability of the death penalty, fewer executions took place in 2014 than in any year since 1994 and there were fewer death sentences since 1974.
According to a report issued in December by the Death Penalty Information Center, in addition to the national decrease in executions and death sentences, only three states – Texas, Missouri, and Florida – were responsible for 80 percent of all executions.
“The relevancy of the death penalty in our criminal justice system is seriously in question when 43 out of our 50 states do not apply the ultimate sanction,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC Executive Director and report author. “The U.S. will likely continue with some executions in the years ahead, but the rationale for such sporadic use is far from clear.”
Seven death row prisoners were exonerated in 2014, the greatest number since 2009. Five of these people spent at least 30 years on death row before they were cleared of charges and released. In the past 40 years, 150 death row prisoners have been exonerated.
Developments in several states demonstrate a growing isolation in use of the death penalty. In Washington, Governor Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty for the duration of his term, joining the governors of Oregon and Colorado in halting executions. A federal judge in California declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional.
Mental disability was also a prominent issue surrounding the death penalty this year. The Supreme Court struck down Florida’s restrictive standards for determining intellectual disability in capital cases. The pending execution of a severely mentally ill man in Texas drew intense opposition, and a federal court stayed the execution to allow for additional review mere hours before he was slated to be killed.