The number of death sentences awarded by Courts and the executions carried out in the US both dropped to historic lows in 2015, according to an annual report on capital punishment published on Wednesday.
Nationally, the number of new death sentences awarded has dropped from a peak of 315 in 1996 to a projected low of 49 in 2015, a 33 percent decline from what was already a 40-year low in 2014. In 2014, there were 73 death sentences awarded by the courts. That number has dropped further to 49 this year.
A brewing controversy over drugs used in a series of botched lethal injections has contributed significantly to this marked decline in the number of executions in the United States in 2015.
Despite the drop in number of death sentences imposed in Texas this year, Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said that he doesn’t see the state ending its use of capital punishment. He believes the decline can be partially attributed to a drop in Texas’ murder rate.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lethal injection process used in Oklahoma. Three death row inmates had challenged the use of the sedative called midazolam. They said it could not maintain a coma-like unconsciousness, potentially leaving inmates in intense pain when drugs that cause death are administered.
“The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare and increasingly isolated in the United States. These are not just annual blips in statistics, but reflect a broad change in attitudes about capital punishment across the country,” DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham, the author of the report, said in a statement.
The controversy over lethal injection drugs ‒ including the use of untested cocktails during executions ‒ “had some effect” on the number of executions nationwide in 2015, but “it does not explain the dramatic long-term drop in executions, new death sentences and public opinion,” Dunham told the Miami Herald.