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March 27, 2011

The death penalty debate in the (bellwether?) capital state of Ohio

Because I consider my own Ohio as a political bellwether, this new local article about death penalty debates in the state seems of more than just local interest.  The piece is headlined "While some push to end capital punishment in Ohio, others are fighting to keep it alive," and here are excerpts:

Even as the Geauga County Common Pleas Court recently sentenced a person to death for the first time since at least 1981, two Ohio Democrats are lobbying for a bill that would eliminate the death penalty throughout the state.... [I]f state Reps. Ted Celeste of Grandview Heights and Nickie Antonio of Lakewood get their wish, the death penalty will come to a complete halt in the Ohio for the first time since 1981 as part of House Bill 160, called the "Execute Justice Bill."...

If House Bill 160 were to pass, the death penalty would be banned.  Celeste told The Columbus Dispatch earlier this month that the costs associated with litigation and multiple appeals for death row inmates can run tens of millions of dollars a year.  "This should be a part of the overall budget conversation as it has the potential to provide major financial savings at a time when we are facing an enormous deficit."

Sixteen states have already banned the death penalty, with Illinois being the most recent. However, local legislatures and prosecutors don't think House Bill 160 will pick up enough steam.

Lake County Prosecutor Charles E. Coulson said he strongly opposes the bill.  "There are certain cases where the death penalty is justified," he said, such as defendants who killed police officers or committed serious pre-meditated murder.  Coulson agrees that the justice system could be tweaked in an effort to save the state money.  "Unfortunately, the justice system is broken when it comes to the death penalty," he said.  "It defies all common sense. It can take up to 15 to 20 years of repetitive appeals while delaying the process.

"The death penalty should be carried out within a reasonable amount of time, not 15 to 20 years of sitting in the bottom of piles of federal court judges' chambers waiting for review while no action is being taken for years at a time."  The process could be fixed by fixing the justice system, where judges only have a certain amount of time to review cases as opposed to letting it sit or limit the amount of appeals, Coulson said.

In the past 20 years, Lake County has sentenced only two people to death, and Coulson said that since Ohio changed its law a few years ago so juries can now recommend life without the possibility of parole, the use of the death penalty has been greatly reduced. "Many cases are now handled that way," he said. "Jurors are more likely to sentence someone to life without possibility of parole rather than (the) death penalty."...

State Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chester Township, and chairman of the Senate of Criminal Justice Committee, said he thinks the bill has no chance of passing.  "I'm a proponent of the death penalty," he said. "If a jury finds a death penalty is appropriate then I believe that penalty should be administered."

If the state wants to save money, the appeals process should be shortened to not waste money through endless legal action, he said.  "At some point, you can't put a price on justice.  You just have to do what's right for the public," he said....

Coulson said in his 37 years of prosecuting, capital punishment has come up multiple times. "We go in waves where we want to eliminate it, then we want to bring it back," he said. "It's like the pendulum swinging back and forth."

March 27, 2011 at 12:40 PM | Permalink


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"If a jury finds a death penalty is appropriate then I believe that penalty should be administered."
A jury can only find a punishment appropriate if it is on the statute. It is for the legislature to articulate a rational argument for or against the death penalty - not justify their own prejudice on the presumption that a jury will continue to find reason to exercise that option. As Coulson admits, juries are opting to make great use already of LWOP, now on offer. That demonstrates their faith that the penal institutions of Ohio are perfectly capable of holding inmates securely and safely, and that the death penalty was and remains an excess, no longer appropriate in the 21st Century. Both Coulson and Grendell should recognize the fact and help take Ohio Justice into a progressive future, rather than burying their heads in the sand.
Incidently, similar bills are being proposed and voted upon in Texas, showing the trend for review is nationwide. Juries in all remaining dp states have shown their reluctance to impose death. Legislatures should take their lead from that and stop pretending that the death penalty is any longer relevant.

Posted by: peter | Mar 27, 2011 3:58:05 PM

The death punishment should be carried out within a sensible amount of time, not 15 to 20 years of session in the base of loads of centralized court judges' chambers coming up for re-examine while no act is being taken for years at a time. The procedure could be fixed by fixing the fairness system, where judges only have a certain quantity of time to review cases as divergent to leasing it sit or limit the amount of appeals.

Posted by: Local SEO | Mar 27, 2011 10:19:22 PM

Bills get introduced all the time, often with the certain knowledge that there is no possibility of passage. Let me know if this actually goes anywhere other than the round file, until then *yawn*.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 28, 2011 6:50:05 AM

This kind of article drives me a little crazy. The guys who introduced the bill say it may pass. The ones who absolutely oppose it say it has no chance, but of course they would probably say this in any case because their saying so helps influence the perception, and thus, perhaps, the reality of its chances.

So this story tells me nothing either way about whether this is just another hopeless, symbolic bill, or one that might generate actual votes. How about a quote from an informed but relatively disinterested observer, who might be able to tell me if this bill has any serious chance of passing?

Posted by: Anon | Mar 28, 2011 10:27:38 AM

Anon --

That such a bill did not pass in the immediately preceding, considerably more liberal, Ohio legislature tells us quite a bit about where this one is going.

I agree, however, that article like this don't add a whole lot to the sum of human knowledge. I mean, I think we knew before now that, when a bill is introduced, it might pass and it might not.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 29, 2011 9:41:45 AM

Thank you for sharing,it is very helpful and I really like it!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 6:14:44 AM

I like what you have said,it is really helpful to me,thanks!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 7:50:21 AM

This bill may be merely symbolic, but this issue is fundamental for us as a human society. We have to keep bringing it up and try to have meaningful debate over it.

DAB, would you be interested in joining our audio dialogue on the Death Penalty over at Vaestro.com (http://vaestro.net/p/11566.html) This first Death Penalty talk is a VERY informal discussion with several participants in their teens.

We are also looking for interesting, thoughtful, and informed individuals for future discussions on a more expert level as well as guests for the Vaestro Weekly Podcast. Let me know if any of that interests you.

Note: The current audio topics require an iPhone or iPad, but our web interface is almost ready. Podcast interviews would be over Skype.


Matt Ready

Posted by: Matt Ready | Apr 12, 2011 1:15:56 PM

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In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB