Recent Legislative Activity

NEW RESOURCES: Podcasts on Individual States

DPIC is beginning a new series of podcasts based on the history of the death penalty in each state. The series will first present the states that have ended the death penalty. Three podcasts, featuring Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maine, are now available. These short audio clips summarize the history surrounding the repeal of the death penalty in those states, including famous cases, issues that spurred legislators to take action, and subsequent attempts at reinstatement of the death penalty. We hope this new series will be an excellent resource for students researching their state's history, and for anyone curious about how historical events shaped our present-day capital punishment system. Our earlier series of podcasts dealt with the many issues surrounding the death penalty. You can listen to these and all of our podcasts on our Podcasts page or by subscribing on iTunes.

News Organizations Sue Oklahoma to View Entire Execution Process

A lawsuit filed in federal court in Oklahoma on August 25 by various news organizations, including the Oklahoma Observer and the Guardian US, seeks to give media witnesses a more complete view of executions than is currently allowed. The petition alleges that the right to witness the entire execution is protected by the First Amendment, stating, "The ability of the press to witness the particular facts and circumstances of each execution, and to report on the same, promotes the proper functioning of the State’s death penalty system and increases public confidence in the integrity of the justice system." Current practice in Oklahoma only permits witnesses to begin watching once officials start administering the lethal injection drugs. The view of witnesses is blocked while the inmate is strapped to the gurney and intravenous lines are inserted. During Clayton Lockett's botched execution in April, the blinds were closed again when Lockett began to writhe and groan after the drugs should have taken effect. Katie Fretland, a reporter who attended Lockett's execution and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said,  “At an execution, the press serves as the public’s eyes and ears. The government shouldn’t be allowed to effectively blindfold us when things go wrong. The public has a right to the whole story, not a version edited by government officials.”

Ohio Had Warnings About Lethal Drugs; State's Expert Witness Withdraws

After Ohio's two-hour attempted execution of Rommel Broom (pictured) in 2009, it explored alternative methods, including an intramuscular injection of midazolam and hydromorphone. Gregory Trout, an attorney with the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction expressed concerns to Dr. Mark Dershwitz, the state's expert witness on lethal injections, about whether these drugs would result in “gasping for air in a hyperventilating fashion, with eyes still open,” and whether it “would create the appearance, at least, of suffering, which would upset witnesses and inspire litigation.” Dr. Dershwitz said such reactions were unlikely. However, Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University, warned the drugs could create “a terrible, arduous, tormenting execution that is also an ugly visual and shameful spectacle.” Ultimately, the drugs were not used intramuscularly but rather injected into the veins of Dennis McGuire in January 2014, resulting in a prolonged execution in which the prisoner struggled and clenched his fists for an extended period. The same drugs were used in the recent two-hour execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona. Dr. Dershwitz, who had served as an expert on lethal injection for 22 states and the federal government, recently withdrew from further involvement as an expert because Ohio had mischaracterized him as a "consultant."

NEW VOICES: Bi-Partisan Support for Death Penalty Repeal Growing in Kansas

The Republican Liberty Caucus of Kansas has officially announced its opposition to the death penalty. The Caucus chair, Dave Thomas, said, “Any time you give the government a power that can be abused, it will or may be abused in the future. And taking a citizen's life is kind of the ultimate power the government can have.” The Caucus joined several Republcan legislators, such as Sen. Carolyn McGinn and Rep. Steve Becker, in supporting repeal of capital punishment. The Kansas Republican Party chose to omit a death-penalty stance from of its platform this year, leaving it as "a matter of individual conscience." The Kansas Libertarian Party opposes the death penalty. In 2013, a repeal bill sponsored by two Republicans and one Democrat received hearings, but was not passed. Kansas has 10 people on death row but has not had an execution since capital punishment was reinstated in 1994.

Kentucky Holds First Public Hearing on Future of Death Penalty

A joint committee of 32 senators and representatives held the first public hearing on Kentucky's death penalty since capital punishment was reinstated there in 1975. The hearing was prompted by a death penalty repeal bill proposed by Republican Rep. David Floyd, who said the death penalty should be ended because of the cost and time it takes for cases to complete the appeals process. He was also concerned about the number of death penalty cases that have been overturned. A 2011 study by the American Bar Association found that 64% of the death sentences they examined were later overturned or commuted. Rep. Floyd said, "Conservatives in general have less trust in government. Why would we trust them in a matter of life and death? If people are given the opportunity to consider all those things, they may come to the same conclusion, that life without parole is a better option for Kentucky." Kentucky has carried out three executions since reinstatement, but executions are currently on hold while a judge reviews the state's lethal injection protocol.

Death Penalty on Hold in Most of the Country

Thirty-six states have either abolished the death penalty, have executions on hold, or have not carried out an execution in at least 5 years. Recently, three states, Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma, temporarily halted executions as reviews are conducted of botched executions. In six states, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, and North Carolina, a de facto moratorium on executions is in place because of lethal-injection challenges; most of those states have not had an execution since 2008. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have formal moratoriums on executions imposed by their governors. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty. In 6 additional states, while no formal hold is in place, no execution has been conducted in at least five years. The U.S. military and federal government also authorize the death penalty, but neither has had an execution in over ten years. Click image at left to see enlarged chart with further details.

EDITORIALS: Connecticut's The Day Calls for Retroactive Death Penalty Repeal

When Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2012, it did so prospectively, leaving its death row population in place. Now, Connecticut newpaper The Day is calling on the state to "have the courage and consistency to outlaw government sanctioned killing in all instances." The editorial first highlights the paper's longstanding opposition to capital punishment, saying "It remains our position that a state-sponsored execution disproportionately targets minorities, has no deterrent value, cannot be undone if there is a mistake and is a barbaric act that lowers the state to the level of the killer." It then draws on recent events to point out the practical problems with Connecticut's execution method, lethal injection. "The Department of Correction has confirmed it has none of these drugs and no way to obtain them because many domestic and foreign drugmakers, including those in the 28-nation European Union, have objected to using their products in executions." The editorial closes by mentioning the ongoing court case challenging the consitutionality of Connecticut's current death penalty law, saying "The likelihood is that none of the 12 [men on death row] will ever be executed and some court, state or federal, will find, as Michael Courtney, the state's head of the Office of Public Defender, has said, "there is nothing more arbitrary and capricious" than the present situation in which a person committing a capital felony on April 24, 2012, the day before Connecticut abolished capital punishment, can be executed while the person committing the exact same crime the next day cannot." Read the full editorial below.

Kentucky Lethal Injection Protocol Under Scrutiny

Executions have been on hold in Kentucky since 2010, when Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd began a review of the state's lethal injection protocol. The state revised its protocol in 2012 to call for a one-drug method, with a two-drug method as a backup if specific drugs were not available. Now, that new protocol is also being scrutinized because it calls for the same drugs that caused the botched execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio. Corrections officials say they don't know if any lethal injection drugs would be available, because the Department of Corrections is currently, "prohibited from taking any steps regarding execution -- and this would include the purchase of the drugs, so we don't know if they are available because we haven't tried to purchase." David Barron, an attorney representing five inmates on death row, called the Ohio execution, "an utter disaster," and said that Kentucky's plan to use a smaller dose is, "not enough to prevent the condemned person from feeling pain." Earlier this year, Republican state Representative David Floyd proposed a bill to repeal the death penalty in Kentucky, saying "The government needs to be infallible when it comes to killing people and it's not," adding, "The alternative of life in prison is much more cost effective."

Pages