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March 19, 2009

Effective coverage of death penalty reforms and realities

Over at Stateline.org, John Gramlich has this effective review of recent capital punishment developments. The piece is headlined, "Death penalty rift in states continues," and here are some excerpts:

Gov. Bill Richardson’s decision Wednesday (March 18) to repeal New Mexico’s death penalty and replace it with a maximum sentence of life without parole is being hailed by supporters as a major victory in the decades-old debate over state-sanctioned executions.

But the decision — which follows New Jersey’s repeal in 2007 and brings to 15 the number of states that do not execute inmates — also underscores the nuanced modern landscape of capital punishment.

While a growing number of states are seriously considering eliminating the death penalty — whether for moral, fiscal or political reasons — others are trying to reinstate or expand it.  At the same time, the United States is on track to put more inmates to death this year than in any year since 1999.

Recent political developments have highlighted the complex and highly regional approaches to the death penalty....

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., noted that the states in which repeal legislation has gained the most traction in recent years — or where it has passed — rarely execute prisoners in the first place.

New Mexico, for instance, has only two inmates on death row, and the state has not executed anyone since 2001. (In an unusual twist, Richardson said during a press conference last night that he will not commute the sentences of the state’s two death-row inmates. The decision potentially sets the stage for a future execution in a non-death penalty state.)

In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) repealed a death penalty the state had never used, and only eight inmates were on death row. In Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska and New Hampshire, where death-penalty repeal legislation has been seriously debated this year, a combined 29 inmates sit on death row.

In contrast, Scheidegger said, “I don’t see any serious chance of repeal in those states that are actually using the death penalty.”

March 19, 2009 at 06:25 PM | Permalink

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