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March 18, 2009

The death penalty officially killed off in New Mexico

This local story reports that this evening Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill to abolish the death penalty in New Mexico.  Here are a few details from the story:

Tonight, Gov. Bill Richardson signed his name to a law that abolishes the death penalty in New Mexico, saying “This has been the most difficult decision of my political career.”

With his signature, Richardson made the Land of Enchantment the 15th U.S. state to ban capital punishment and pushed it into the worldwide community of states and nations that have abolished the death penalty, including many countries in the European Union.

“I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime,” Richardson said. “If the State is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong.”...

The law also creates a sentence of life without parole to replace the death penalty for the most heinous crimes.

The lead up to Richardson’s decision attracted attention across the country as well as beyond its borders. Viki Elkey of the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty said Wednesday she had conducted more than 50 media interviews in recent days. And most of the reporters she spoke to hailed from European countries....

New Mexico has executed one prisoner since 1976 — Terry Clark in 2001.

This official page reprints Governor Bill Richardson's statement in conjunction with this decision to sign this bill.  It is an interesting read that includes these assertions:

Even with advances in DNA and other forensic evidence technologies, we can’t be 100-percent sure that only the truly guilty are convicted of capital crimes. Evidence, including DNA evidence, can be manipulated. Prosecutors can still abuse their powers. We cannot ensure competent defense counsel for all defendants. The sad truth is the wrong person can still be convicted in this day and age, and in cases where that conviction carries with it the ultimate sanction, we must have ultimate confidence – I would say certitude – that the system is without flaw or prejudice. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably not the case.

And it bothers me greatly that minorities are overrepresented in the prison population and on death row.

I have to say that all of the law enforcement officers, and especially the parents and spouses of murder victims, made compelling arguments to keep the death penalty. I respect their opinions and have taken their experiences to heart -- which is why I struggled – even today – before making my final decision.

Yes, the death penalty is a tool for law enforcement. But it’s not the only tool. For some would-be criminals, the death penalty may be a deterrent. But it’s not, and never will be, for many, many others.

While today’s focus will be on the repeal of the death penalty, I want to make clear that this bill I’m signing actually makes New Mexico safer. With my signature, we now have the option of sentencing the worst criminals to life in prison without the possibility of parole. They will never get out of prison.

Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe.

March 18, 2009 at 08:39 PM | Permalink


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I find it amusing that Richardson is bothered by the fact that minorities are "overrepresented" in prison populations and on death row. Who does he think is committing the crimes. Would he feel better if "others" were added to the mix just to water down the minority population. Minorities make up the majority on death row because the minorities are committing the crimes. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

Posted by: frem | Mar 18, 2009 10:16:26 PM

So, is Richardson going to now abolish prisons because minorities are overrepresented? What a buffoon.

Typical Democrat.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 18, 2009 11:10:25 PM

The abolition of the death penalty lawyer immunizes all murders after the first. Abolition is a license to kill with absolute immunity from the lawyer.

Families of murder victims have every justification to bring street justice to the lawyer hierarchy. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 18, 2009 11:15:23 PM

An African American is more than twice as likely to be sentenced to death than a Caucasian. Moreover, god forbid that African American kill a Caucasian, or his chances of being sentenced to death are four times greater. Similar disparities exist for other minorities.

If people would actually take some time to look into the matter they would see that it is not as simple as minorities commit more crimes and, therefore, there are more minorities on death row. Minorities are less likely to receive competent counsel at trial, and far less likely to have counsel at all throughout the collateral appeals process, where counsel is not guaranteed.

Capital juries, on the whole, are predominantly Caucasian, a group that supports - and is more willing to impose - the death penalty moreso than most other, if not all, minority sub-groups. African Americans are a small minority on capital juries, even considering their proportion in the population. Yet, were they to be proportionately represented on juries, there could be significant impact on the imposition of the death penalty. The likelihood of a death sentence for all capital defendants has been shown to directly correlate with the number of African Americans sitting on the jury. While I'm not positive, I would not be surprised to see similar correlations with other minorities.

This does, of course, assume that the defendant goes before a capital jury to begin with. Yet, there are numerous questions whether minorities are fairly charged with capital crimes. There have been indications that where an African American is accused of a crime for which a death sentence could be possible, the prosecutor more often gave a more severe appraisal of the crime than what the police/investigators provided the prosecutor. In many instances this led to capital charges. When the accused was Caucasian, however, the prosecutor was significantly more likely to agree with the police/investigator's assessment.

Plus, one must take account of the numerous instances throughout the criminal process where discretion rules - from investigation to arrest to jury selection to sentencing. We all have our conscious and subconscious biases and prejudices. For many people, they are benign. For many others, however, they can have serious consequences. But, to completely ignore reality, and to shrug off the fact that minorities are grossly overrepresented on death row as a consequence of the fact that they have been convicted of more crimes seems, to me, reckless.

Posted by: jason | Mar 18, 2009 11:22:27 PM

New Jersey? New Mexico? To where will all the killers flock?

Oh, wait, maybe murder, even premeditated murder, is a crime of opportunity, not cross-country planning.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 18, 2009 11:37:17 PM

I'm very much in favor of the death penalty, and I strongly disagree with Gov. Richardson's reasons for signing the bill, particularly his statement that any system that executes people must be perfectly error-free.

That said, I'm happy to see that New Mexico is actually making its choice through the legislative process rather than having the choice forced on it by the courts through the cowardice of a governor with power to issue mass commutations.

I hope that this legislation fulfills all of the good intentions of its proponents. Perhaps money will be in fact be saved, plea bargaining will in fact operate more justly, erroneous convictions will be corrected, and those benefits will come at minimal cost in the way of deterrence. If so, good for New Mexico for making its choice the right way. If not, then hopefully New Mexico will still have the freedom to revisit the choice it consummated today.

Posted by: ab | Mar 19, 2009 2:03:00 AM

Anon, to make an obvious point, some murders are more planned than others. Both of the types you mention (those involving "cross-country planning" and those that are "crime[s] of opportunity") can and do exist in the same world.

Posted by: ab | Mar 19, 2009 2:08:37 AM

With New Jersey and New Mexico's abolition of the death penalty (and New York's virtual one), will the US Supreme Court soon declare that a "consensus" exists against capital punishment?

Posted by: Alpino | Mar 19, 2009 3:06:47 AM

Another small, yet significant step towards universal abolition in the US. In spite of the professor's clever attempt to downplay local popular support for abolition, well represented in both House and Senate, this is only one of the indicators that support for the death penalty is fast dying. Even in Texas, the numbers being sentenced to death is beginning to fall off the metaphoric cliff. Whether the stimulus for reform and abolition is cost, or moral concern, or simple understanding that the inherent dangers of error are too high for such irreversible penalty, the US will follow New Jersey, New Mexico and much of the rest of the world. The longer the process, the greater the shame. But cause for celebration and respect for a decision well made today in New Mexico!

Posted by: peter | Mar 19, 2009 3:45:00 AM

Peter: Lawyer test. Say the V word out loud. No lawyer can. The gag. They choke. It never makes out the mouth. Victim.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 19, 2009 8:18:33 AM

I am a victim of non-lawyers and their evil.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 19, 2009 9:43:47 AM



Posted by: Daniel | Mar 19, 2009 10:58:56 AM

Supremacy Claus - I'll say it. Victim. As in, there is one. Acknowledged.

Now I've got a word for you. Actually, I've got a couple, but the one for polite law blog company is: abolish.

Go New Mexico.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 19, 2009 8:10:30 PM

Anon, you are probably not a lawyer, just a misguided left wing ideologue. Victim to you is a customer for a social worker or something. The lawyer has a real problem with that word.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 19, 2009 9:25:27 PM

I am a lawyer and a left wing ideologue. You should know, the two are practically synonymous.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 19, 2009 10:16:49 PM

Anon: The first purpose of government is to provide our physical security. When it fails, Fallujah ensues. And Fallujah was safer than many of our neighborhoods. In Fallujah, no other business could be conducted by the citizens, spending their full time providing for their own security.

When government fails to protect millions of victims, every year, that means the criminal law is in failure. The victim generates no lawyer fee, so the lawyer has granted the criminal nearly total immunity. The chance of any consequence for the most violent of crimes is nearly infinitesimally small.

The cases holding no duty of government to individual citizens are false and wrongful. They deny the first and most important function of government. If crime victims could sue the government, lawyers would have more jobs, and the government would be better motivated to do its first and most important job.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 19, 2009 10:47:52 PM

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