In 2014, the U.S. executed fewer people than it has done in any given year since 1994. Overall, there were 35 executions, all of which were done by lethal injection. For comparison, the U.S. executed 98 and 85 people in the years 1999 and 2000, respectively.
The numbers—slightly down from 39 executions in 2013—reflect a "steady decline" in the practice inside the U.S., noted Amnesty International in a report released yesterday. But executions are increasingly concentrating into fewer states: Only seven states executed someone in 2014, down from nine the previous year.
Four states—Texas, Missouri, Florida, and Oklahoma—were responsible for 89 percent of all executions.
Another possibly good sign for those who oppose the death penalty: the overall number of death sentences decreased from 95 in 2013 to 77 in 2014.
But broad racial disparities continue to plague the system. In 2014, over half of all the people who were executed were black. Last April the U.N. Human Rights Committee expressed its concern "about the continuing use of the death penalty and, in particular, racial disparities in its imposition that disproportionately affects African Americans, exacerbated by the rule that discrimination has to be proven on a case-by-case basis."
The committee has recommended that the U.S. "impose a moratorium on the death penalty at the federal level."
Also troubling: some of the executions that took place happened to individuals with severe mental and intellectual disabilities.
"Paul Goodwin was executed in Missouri on 10 December," the report reads. "His lawyers had sought clemency on the grounds that his intellectual disability, combined with other mental deficits, rendered his execution unconstitutional."
This Monday, the Supreme Court of the U.S. heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of yet another death sentence of someone with severe intellectual disabilities. The Court had previously ruled the practice as unconstitutional, but left it to the states to define who fits into that category. The current case hopes to clear that up a little bit, but it remains unclear which way the decision might come down.
Some foreign pharmaceutical groups have made it almost impossible for government agencies in the U.S. to obtain the core chemicals in a lethal injection cocktail. In response, the state government of Utah recently passed a bill allowing the use of firing squads. In Oklahoma, the government is moving ahead with legislation that would allow for nitrogen gas as a method of executions.
On a global scale, the Amnesty International report notes, executions in 2014 went down almost 22 percent (with the exception of China, which executed more than the rest of the world put together).
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.