« Another two more open access articles from FSR issue on "The Tyranny of the Trial Penalty" | Main | "Between 2007 and 2017, 34 States Reduced Crime and Incarceration in Tandem" »

August 11, 2019

Reviewing recent state capital contractions as feds seek to restart executions

Death-penalty-20190807US Attorney General William Barr's announcement of a change in the federal execution protocol and scheduling of five federal executions (basics here) could give the impression that the death penalty is resurgent in the United States.  But this recent article from The Appeal Political Report provides a useful review and reminder that the death penalty continued to be contracting in the states.  The article is headlined "With New Law, Oregon Joins Wave of States Restricting or Halting the Death Penalty," and here are excerpts:

Movement is building against the death penalty at the state level, even as the Trump Administration calls for expanding its use and prepares to restart federal executions.

Oregon became the latest state to act against it last week when Governor Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 1013, which considerably narrows the range of capital offenses.

The reform does not abolish the death penalty, which is inscribed in the state Constitution and so can only be eliminated by referendum.  But the legislature circumvented that requirement by redefining “aggravated murder” (the only category eligible for the death penalty in Oregon) and removing most circumstances that currently warrant the “aggravated” moniker.

“The concept of this bill is to close the front door to the death penalty,” said Lynn Strand, the chairperson of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP). Strand expects the law to be “quite effective” at stopping new death sentences and she called it “a giant step.”

“But it does not address what you do with the back door,” she added.  Indeed SB 1013 is not retroactive. It leaves 30 people on death row, largely for crimes that are not capital offenses under the new law, according to Jeffrey Ellis, an attorney with the Oregon Capital Resource Counsel....

The governor has the authority to commute existing death sentences. In explaining her support for SB 1013, Brown called the death penalty “immoral” and “dysfunctional.”  These are adjectives that apply to past sentences as much as to new ones. But she has yet to publicly signal whether she is considering commutations. Her office did not answer a request for comment....

Oregon does have a moratorium on executions. It was imposed by John Kitzhaber, Brown’s predecessor.  Brown has maintained it in place since taking office in 2015. The moratorium is important, but it is insufficient to end the death penalty’s moral and financial costs, and to remove its threat from a prosecutor’s arsenal of tools.  It could also be lifted by a future governor. “The moratorium stops executions,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the Sacramanto Bee about California’s in July. “It doesn’t stop the machinery of death from moving forward.”

Oregon law specified 19 circumstances that label a murder “aggravated.” SB 1013 shrinks that list to the murder of a child under 14, a murder committed by someone who is already in prison, a terrorist act that kills more than two people, and the murder of law enforcement officers. In addition, jurors will no longer be asked to judge a person’s “future dangerousness” when weighing a death sentence.

These changes are leading prosecutors to drop their plan to seek the death penalty in a criminal case underway in Malheur County. Some prosecutors, such as District Attorney Patty Perlow of populous Lane County (home of Eugene), fought the bill....

Oregon is the fifth state to restrict, halt, or abolish capital punishment over the last 10 months.  In October, Washington State’s Supreme Court abolished it and also commuted the sentences of all eight people on death row.  Then, California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions in March; the New Hampshire legislature abolished the death penalty in May; and the New Mexico Supreme Court commuted the sentences of the only two people on death row there in June, a decade after the state abolished the death penalty for new crimes.

New Mexico’s decision leaves New Hampshire as the only state to abolish the death penalty but still have someone on death row.  Death penalty opponents are now actively planning their next moves in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.  At the county level, people have successfully run for prosecutor on a promise to not seek the death penalty, and capital punishment looms large in other local elections this fall.

August 11, 2019 at 04:22 AM | Permalink

Comments

Death, thou shalt die!!

Posted by: anon1 | Aug 12, 2019 10:58:33 AM

Capital punishment is a necessity for mass murderers with no conscience and a will to murder a human being. God's commandment was against murder and God was not against removing those that would do harm to his children.

Posted by: LC in Texas | Aug 12, 2019 1:41:26 PM

LC in Texas, God also tells us to execute those who work on the Sabbath, children who rebel against their parents, and women who are not virgins when they marry. Are you on board with the death penalty in those cases too?

Posted by: anon1 | Aug 12, 2019 2:41:35 PM

Following up on anon1's response to LC in Texas. God tells us indeed to impose death:

1. For doing work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14, 35:2, Numbers 15:32-36)

2. For falsely claiming a woman is a virgin at time of marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-21) .

God also commands us to execute the following folks:

1. “your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend” who want you to worship other gods. Deuteronomy 13

2. Anyone who “foretells by dreams, appears among you... and says, 'Let us follow other gods.”

3. Whole communities if they have led the people of their town astray to worship other gods. Deuternomy 13.

4. Any woman claiming to be “sorceress.” Exodus 22:18

5. Commands the whole community to stone to death a rebellious son who will not listen to his parents. Deuteronomy 21:18-21

6. Anyone who curses his mother or father. Exodus 21:17.

Nor does the New Testament change any of this. As Jesus says in Matthew 17 and 18, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.…"

Posted by: anon12 | Aug 12, 2019 2:55:40 PM

In light of the comments, I think it best we leave God out of the discussion.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | Aug 12, 2019 2:57:21 PM

Post a comment

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