Historically, Virginia has executed more individuals than any other state besides Texas. But the state will end 2012 without a single execution for only the second time since 1984. The reasons, according to the Washington Times, include that cases are tied up in appeals and juries are less likely to opt for the punishment. Nationwide, there were 43 executions this year – the same number as in 2011, but a decline of 50 percent since 1999 – when capital punishment peaked after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively halted executions in 1972, and then re-established that they were legal in 1976. As has been the trend, the 43 executions were isolated in a few states. Texas, which relies far more than any state upon capital punishment, executed 14 people in 2012, while 41 states did not perform any executions.
The long-term trend away from capital punishment may reflect growing evidence that the sentence has been wrongly and arbitrarily applied to innocent individuals, and could ultimately lead to a Supreme Court conclusion that, given our “evolving standard of decency,” the punishment meets the definition of “cruel and unusual” punishment under the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.