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September 20, 2016

What should we make of why and how New Mexico's Gov is pushing hard to bring back the death penalty in her state?

One notable sentencing reform story in the United States over the last decade has been the growing number of states abolishing capital punishment legislatively while no new state has come to (or come back to) embrace the penalty.  Specifically, in the last decade, we have seen legislatures in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland and Nebraska take their machineries of death off-line.  (The 2015 Nebraska repeal, as regular readers know, might be reversed by voter referendum this November.) 

But as highlighted by this new AP article, headlined "New Mexico Governor Wants Vote on Reinstating Death Penalty," a notable chief executive is now making a notable hard push for bringing the death penalty back in her state.  Here are the latest details:

P>New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez stepped up pressure on lawmakers Tuesday to consider reinstating the death penalty by promising to add the issue to a legislative agenda for a pending special session that was aimed solely at fixing the state's budget shortfall.

The second-term Republican governor said that she wants the death penalty as an option for convicted killers of police, children and corrections officers.  New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009 before Martinez took office by replacing provisions for lethal injection with a sentence of life in prison without parole.  The move by Martinez could compel lawmakers to take a public stand on capital punishment ahead of November elections for the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives and Democrat-dominated state Senate. 

"Cop killers and child murderers deserve the ultimate punishment," Martinez said in a written statement.  "If you kill an officer, you deserve the death penalty. If you kill a child, you deserve the death penalty.  It's time we say enough is enough."...

Her push to restore capital punishment follows the killings in southern New Mexico of two police officers in separate shootings in August and September by wanted fugitives, along with the horrific killing and dismemberment of a 10-year-old New Mexico girl in Albuquerque last month.

New Mexico executed nine men starting in 1933 until more than seven decades later when it abolished the death penalty.  The state's most recent execution in 2001 was its first since 1960.  Former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, cited flaws in how the death penalty was applied when he signed the legislation that abolished it.  He said the criminal justice system must be perfect if it will be used to put someone to death.

I presume Gov Martinez genuinely believes that justice demands the death penalty for cop killers and child killers (although her strong rhetoric makes me wonder if she shares GOP Prez nominee Donald Trump's view that we should have a mandatory capital punishment for cop killers as well as for child killers).  And yet, given the current timing of her push for bringing the death penalty back to New Mexico, I cannot help but wonder if Gov Martinez  (1) has some strong internal polling numbers suggesting citizens in the state also strongly favor a return of the death penalty, and (2) thinks that the death penalty can be an effective "wedge" issue for her to help get her preferred state legislative candidates elected this fall. 

September 20, 2016 at 06:27 PM | Permalink


A life is a life. So what makes a cop, child or correctional officer's worth more than anyone else's and deserving of re-instating the death penalty for it???

Posted by: Inquiring minds would like to know | Sep 20, 2016 7:59:56 PM

"thinks that the death penalty can be an effective "wedge" issue for her to help get her preferred state legislative candidates elected this fall. "

That is the consensus among the political cognoscenti in the state. The Republicans control the House and they are only a few seats away from controlling the Senate. She would love to rule over an undivided legislature for the last two years of her term.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 20, 2016 8:19:49 PM

Police officers and correctional officers are the people hired by the State to protect us from criminals. Adding enhancements for offenses committed against these individuals to some degree demonstrates an appreciation for the risks we ask these people to take on our behalf. Additionally, killing a corrections officer demonstrates that the person is still dangerous to others even while serving a sentence (showing that a life sentence is insufficient to incapacitate) the offender.

Children are seen as more helpless and more "innocent" than other victims. As such targeting them is more heinous than targeting an adult.

There are other factors that might qualify as aggravating circumstances. (I personally think that the fact that the homicide was committed while incarcerated should be an aggravating circumstance regardless of whether the victim is a corrections officer or another inmate.) But the three factors listed are ones that should logically appeal to voters as circumstances in which the death penalty should be on the table.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 21, 2016 10:16:50 AM


The answer to your question is vulnerability. The logic is not that their lives are worth more in the abstract; the logic is that these populations are especially vulnerable to abuse. Cops and correction officers are vulnerable because they put themselves in harms way, children because they are weaker than adults. So the logic is that populations that are especially vulnerable need special protections and one such protection is the death penalty for those who harm them.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 21, 2016 10:21:46 AM

I don't support the death penalty but the replies to the first comment provides sound logic on why those who hurt children, police officers and so forth deserve more punishment. The argument then goes to if execution is warranted.

As to the idea this is partially political, such is life, and our system of government suggests such things should influence. Of course, they sometimes influence government officials to do bad things, so we should be on guard. Finally, yes, question if she thinks it should be mandatory. At the very least, putting aside that is currently deemed unconstitutional (unless "mandatory" is defined quite broadly), I doubt outliers like someone obviously insane would be included by her. Still, like when the other side uses rhetoric, I'm willing to grant some dramatic license here.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 21, 2016 10:36:05 AM

Besides agreeing with children being more vulnerable the occupations of cops and correctional officers, still being a voluntary profession with the appropriate training that must go with it, I disagree with special circumstances being applied to them because of their chosen profession. Why are military members not compensated at the same level as those two highly compensated civil servant occupations? Certainly military careers are in many cases these days much more detrimental to ones life compared to the somewhat more predictable circumstances that cops and correctional officers may face on a daily basis. Or is it because patriotic sacrifices are less valued than civilian civil servant sacrifices?

Posted by: Inquiring minds would like to know | Sep 21, 2016 7:39:12 PM

"Why are military members not compensated at the same level as those two highly compensated civil servant occupations?"

People in the military get various "plus" benefits including on public service careers and when they are prosecuted for crimes their military service is factored in as mitigation. This is just two ways service in the military is compensated. Someone here in fact disagreed with me that this was in fact warranted. At the very least, it's present.

We also protect members of the military in part by higher punishments if people hurt them in various respects. The principle applies, with relevant levels of scope mixed in, for various people. For instance, when I go on a public bus, I see notice about laws in place that penalize hurting bus drivers more.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 22, 2016 10:21:58 AM

Inquiring -- back to my original point. While technically all crimes are offenses against the State, attacks on law enforcement and correctional officers in their official capacities are literally an attack on the government and the criminal justice system. It is possible to argue that the list of statutory aggravators being proposed in New Mexico is underinclusive. It's not too hard to make an argument for adding the military, judges, prosecutors, and other government officials.

Attacking the specific statutory aggravating circumstances as underinclusive is not a logically valid argument against reinstating the death penalty. It is an argument for adding additional statutory aggravating circumstances.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 22, 2016 11:09:19 AM

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