On Tuesday night, the state of Texas executed Miguel Paredes by lethal injection for murdering three members of a rival gang* sixteen years ago. With no executions scheduled by the state department of criminal justice for November or December, Paredes' death marks the tenth and final execution for Texas this year—the fewest in almost two decades.
2014 wasn't anomalous either. Executions in Texas, the most prolific death-penalty state in the country, spiked after Congress restricted federal appeals in death-penalty cases with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996. Since then, however, the death penalty has been in overall decline both in Texas and nationwide. Thirty people have been executed so far this year in the entire United States, whereas Texas alone executed 40 people at its peak in 2000.
What's driving the decline? Since executions peaked nationally in the late 1990s, multiple Supreme Court rulings have limited the death penalty's scope and application. The justices barred executions of the mentally disabled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002, for example, and eliminated the death penalty for individual crimes other than first-degree murder in their 2008 decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana. (In the latter case, the court expressly left the death penalty intact for so-called crimes against the state—treason, espionage, terrorism, and "drug kingpin activity"—without ruling on the constitutionality thereof.) This resulted in fewer cases with which the death penalty could be applied, while also imposing new legal hurdles before it could be carried out.