The Trump administration made headlines recently for reaching a grim milestone: Enacting more federal executions than all 50 U.S. states combined for the first time in U.S. history.
Yet, there were “historically low numbers of death sentences and executions” overall, according to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) published Dec. 16.
As of mid-December, a total of 18 death sentences and 17 executions (10 federal; 7 state) had taken place. This is down from a high of 315 sentences in 1996 and 98 executions in 1999. For the sixth year in a row, less than 50 sentences and fewer than 30 executions will have been carried out.
“Executions and new death sentences in 2020 continued to be directed at defendants and prisoners who were the most vulnerable or who had the most defective court process,” the report said. “Every prisoner executed in 2020 had one or more significant mental or emotional impairments (mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage or chronic trauma) or was under age 21 at the time of the crime for which he was executed.”
There were five exonerations that took place this year, bringing the total to 172 since 1973. In all five cases, the sentences were reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct.
Of the 28 states that still have the death penalty, the number of “death row” inmates declined in 18 states, remained the same in eight states and increased in four states. Twelve states that have not abolished the death penalty have not executed anyone in more than a decade. Overall, the total number of inmates on death row declined by 65 to 2,591.
A majority (55%) of U.S. adults continue to support the death penalty, according to a mid-November report by Gallup. However, support has been declining since a high of 80% in 1994, while opposition has steadily increased to 43%, up 27% from an all-time low in 1994.
The full report is available here.