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Capital Punishment Declined In 2010

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Executions declined in all four regions of the U.S. in 2010 and dropped by more than half over the past decade, according to a report released Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center.

The number of new death sentences climbed to 114 this year from 112 in 2009, which was the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The 46 actual executions represent a 12 percent drop from the 52 executions 2009, with Texas seeing a 29 percent drop over the previous year.

DPIC director Richard Dieter said the sudden drop in executions may reflect people's concerns over the possibility of executing the innocent.

"I think the death penalty was a bit out of control in the '90s and needed much more scrutiny," he told HuffPost. "As executions increased, there was a rash of mistakes revealed through DNA evidence and and media investigations, so the revelation that mistakes were possible became very real. Now we're in a phase where it's being used less, and the big question that comes up is what purpose does it serve at all?"

Dieter said another major problem people have with the death penalty is that it unnecessarily burdens state budgets.

"In Illinois, for instance, $100 million has been spent on death penalty assistance to counties since 2003, and there haven't even been any executions during that time period," he said. "For a state which has a severe budget problem, $100 million is quite an expenditure considering nothing has come out of it in 12 years. You could have life without parole for a lot less money."

While the November elections signaled a dramatic shift to the right, states across the country and across the political spectrum elected governors who openly questioned or opposed capital punishment, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Kansas, and Illinois. And according to a national poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, only 33 percent of Americans said they support the death penalty as an appropriate punishment for murder.

While capital punishment is still legal in 35 states, only 12 of them actually used it this year, and several of them, including Illinois, Maryland and Texas, will decide within the next few weeks whether to abolish the death penalty. The Illinois legislature will vote on the issue in early January, and a district court in Texas will soon decide whether the death penalty is unconstitutional in the state based on the disproportionately high risk of wrongful convictions.

Dieter told HuffPost he expects the number of executions to continue to decline throughout the next decade.

"I think the death penalty will slowly decline, and states will consider abolitions," he said. "It's very costly, not very productive, and has risks that just aren't as acceptable as they used to be."

Click HERE to download a PDF of the report.