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Use of Death Penalty Eroding; New England Leads National Trend

Only one person remains on death row in New Hampshire. State legislators voted to abolish the death penalty in May. (Adobe Stock)
Only one person remains on death row in New Hampshire. State legislators voted to abolish the death penalty in May. (Adobe Stock)
November 19, 2019

CONCORD, N.H. — New death sentences are at record lows nationwide, and executions are down by 75% since the mid-1990s. That's according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. Earlier this year, New Hampshire became the 21st state in the U.S. to abolish the death penalty.

The center's executive director Robert Dunham said he expects other states to follow New Hampshire's lead and move further away from the use of capital punishment.

"With New Hampshire abolishing the death penalty earlier this year, there's no state left in New England that has the death penalty,” Dunham said.

Dunham added while Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast with the death penalty on the books, it has temporarily blocked executions.

He pointed out when states began to provide higher-quality legal representation for defendants, the death penalty rate plummeted.

"As they began to understand how to tell the story of the defendant's life, the states in which defense lawyers were provided meaningful resources began to see death penalties drop a lot."

Dunham said nine states have ended the death penalty in the past 15 years, and pointed out that half of the states in the country have either abolished capital punishment or have suspended executions.

"If you look at the entire northeastern United States, nobody has been executed in the Northeast in the last 50 years, except for four mentally ill prisoners who gave up their appeals,” he said.

He said the death penalty remains disproportionately used in a small number of counties, mostly located in states in the South and Midwest.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NH