Death Penalties Decline: California Imposes Moratorium and New Hampshire Abolishes

December 17, 2019 Updated: December 17, 2019
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For five years straight, the United States has seen a decline in the number of death sentences, with less than 50 people sentenced to death and less than 30 people executed per year.

The year-end report released on Dec. 17 by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a nonprofit dedicated to death penalty research, calculates that around 36 death sentences will be brought into effect in 2019, with the number of executions at 22, the second-lowest number since 1973.

“The death penalty is disappearing from whole regions of the country and eroding in others, but the death penalty is persisting among outlier jurisdictions,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said.

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Death Penalty Information Center (screenshot)

On May 30, New Hampshire abolished the death penalty, becoming the 21st state to do so. California, on the other hand,  saw their Governor Gavin Newsom imposing a moratorium on executions. California has the nation’s largest death-row population. In this way, Newsom joined the Oregon, Colorado, and Pennsylvania governors, who also halted the executions in their states.

Nine states have terminated the death penalty since 2004, only 29 states still have it, and according to the DPIC, support for the death penalty is at a 47-year low, with 60 percent of Americans preferring life sentence without parole over the death penalty, in cases of murder convictions.

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Death Sentence and Execution trends (DPIC/Screenshot)

“Last-minute stays should be the extreme exception, not the norm, and ‘the last-minute nature of an application’ that ‘could have been brought’ earlier, or ‘an applicant’s attempt at manipulation,’ ‘may be grounds for denial of a stay,’” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in clearing the way for Missouri to execute an inmate with an unusual medical condition reported the Associated Press.

Attorney General William P. Barr, however, according to the Department of Justice, has been trying to bring justice to the “victims of the most horrific crimes,” by directing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to accept an Addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol to clear the way after a nearly two-decade negligence.

Barr has also given directions to the BOP acting director, Hugh Hurwitz, to program the executions of five death row murder convicts, some involved in raping and torturing children and elderly.

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Attorney General William Barr, center, shakes hands with Vernon Finley, left, and Tony Incashola, right, on Friday, at the Flathead Reservation in Pablo, Mont. Nov. 22, 2019, (Patrick Semansky/AP)

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Attorney General Barr said in July this year. “Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding. The Justice Department upholds the rule of law—and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

President Trump and William Barr
President Donald Trump (L) and Attorney General William Barr arrive together in the East Room of the White House on May 22, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)