The US state of Arkansas has been on the receiving end of fierce criticism for preparing to execute some death row inmates because the state’s deadly cocktail of drugs is expiring.
The executions, which would be the first in the state for 12 years, have been paused by a court ruling.
The moratoriums indicate a countrywide trend as states are handing out fewer death sentences than ever before.
There are currently 31 states in the US that practise the death penalty.
The following graph demonstrates the number of death sentences since 1999, and refer only to sentencing, not actual executions.
In 1998 there were 295 death sentences and by 2016 that number had gone down significantly to just 30 .
Why the decrease in numbers?
There are a few theories for why fewer people are being sentenced to death: states have difficulty with lethal injection protocols, as well as where to get the drugs for the lethal injections. Although the sedative midazolam had been ruled by the courts to be constitutional, an Alabama defendant, Ronald Smith, argued that the drug was unreliable because it causes pain.
Although he was unsuccessful in preventing himself from being executed, witnesses said he ‘appeared to be struggling for breath’ moments before he died, and consequently Arizona announced they would stop using midazolam.
For a number of years a small number of states have dominated in execution numbers, as demonstrated below.
Texas and Georgia, as well as Alabama and Missouri have accounted for most of the death sentences in America.