The Use of the Death Penalty is Declining in Texas

Stats from the Economist about the decline of popularity of the death penalty in the United States

When Texas executed Miguel Parades by lethal injection last month, it marked the 10th time the death penalty had been used by the state this year.

Texas leads the nation in the number of executions but the use of the death penalty is declining in the Lone Star State. The final execution of the year means 2014 will have seen the lowest number of executions in almost two decades.

Miguel Paredes was executed by lethal injection for murdering three members of a rival gang 16 years ago. The Atlantic reported no executions have been scheduled by the state department of criminal justice for November or December.

The article noted a long-term decline in executions in Texas. Executions in the Lone Star State spiked after Congress restricted federal appeals in death-penalty cases with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996. In 2000 Texas executed 40 inmates – the highest number in the last four decades.

Since then, however, the death penalty has declined both in Texas and nationwide. This year 30 people have been executed in the entire United States.

A number of Supreme Court rulings limited the death penalty’s scope and application across the United States in recent years. In 2002, the justices barred executions of the mentally disabled in Atkins v. Virginia, and eliminated the death penalty for individual crimes other than first-degree murder in the 2008 ruling in Kennedy v. Louisiana.

Despite this ruling Texas continues to seek the death penalty in cases in which mental disability is a factor in the crime.

The most fundamental shift in Texas came in 2005 when the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that executing defendants who were minors when they committed the crime was in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Before the ruling, Texas had led the nation in imposing the death penalty on under-18 defendants. The Atlantic article reported this was the first year in which more inmates left Texas’ death row alive than dead for the first time since 1989. In another pertinent development, legislators gave Texas juries the option to sentence murder defendants to life without parole, thus lowering the number of new death-penalty convictions.

The death penalty has also been undermined by botched lethal injections in recent years in states like Oklahoma and a worldwide shortage of the lethal injection drugs.

Although Texas is executing fewer prisoners on death row, it continues to be ground zero for the ultimate sanction in the United States and the miscarriages of justice continue.

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