Recent Legislative Activity

New Hampshire Retains Death Penalty on Tie Vote

On April 17, the New Hampshire Senate voted 12-12 on a bill to repeal the death penalty. The Senate then voted to table the bill, meaning it could be brought up for reconsideration later in the legislative session. New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939 and has only 1 person on death row, whose status would not have been affected by the bill. The bill had overwhelmingly passed the House earlier, and Gov. Maggie Hassan indicated she would have signed the bill if it passed the Senate. Senator Bob Odell, one of two Republicans who voted in favor of repeal, had previously supported the death penalty, but said he could not explain an execution to his grandchildren. Some of those who voted to retain the death penalty were concerned that passage might reduce the sentence of the one man on death row, even though the bill stated it would apply only to future cases. In other states where inmates were left on death row after repeal, none have been removed because of the repeal legislation.

EDITORIALS: "New Hampshire Should Abolish Death Penalty"

In advance of a New Hampshire Senate vote expected on April 17, the Boston Globe published an editorial calling on their neighboring state's legislators to support repeal of capital punishment. The editorial highlighted the bipartisan support for abolition in the New Hampshire House, and Gov. Maggie Hassan's pledge to sign the repeal bill if it passes the Senate. Among their reasons for endorsing the measure, the Globe said, "Death-penalty prosecutions are expensive, verdicts often reflect racial bias, and there’s little evidence that executions actually deter violent crime." Moreover, the editorial continued, "[A] state with a libertarian heritage like New Hampshire’s should regard with deep suspicion a punishment that can only make sense if the government has the right suspect 100 percent of the time." In response to the argument that prosecutors need the death penalty as a bargaining tool, the editors said, "[T]hat’s among the weakest of reasons to keep the death penalty, because it could serve to coerce an innocent or less culpable defendant into taking a plea bargain just to avoid the possibility of death." Read the editorial below.

New and Timely Resources from DPIC

DPIC recently published a new page that presents execution data for each state and each year since 1976. This allows users to more easily see execution trends in states over time. We have also recently posted updated state data from "Death Row, USA." As of October 1, 2013, there were 3,088 inmates on death row, continuing the decline in death row population since 2000. As developments surrounding lethal injection continue to emerge, users can find current information on our State-by-State Lethal Injection page. Finally, information on legislative action on capital punishment, such as the upcoming vote on repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire, can be found on our Recent Legislation page.

Perils of State Secrecy Surrounding Lethal Injections

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, attorneys Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno argued that the veil of secrecy that many states have placed over their execution process violates defendants' constitutional rights and "deprives the public of informed debate." The authors provided numerous examples where inmates executed with drugs from compounding pharmacies or with novel mixes of new drugs exhibited signs of consciousness and suffering. However, inmates whose executions are rapidly approaching are unable to mount a credible challenge to the drugs that will be used because legislatures or wardens have labeled the sources as state secrets. The attorneys concluded, "The Eighth Amendment requires that the ultimate punishment our society can impose and the means by which it is carried out are subject to the highest level of scrutiny. If prison officials conceal crucial information from judges, lawyers and the public, we have only their word that the drugs will cause death in a manner that complies with the Constitution. Clearly, we can’t leave that to trust."

North Carolina Supreme Court to Hear Racial Justice Act Cases

On April 14, the North Carolina Supreme Court will hear appeals in the cases of the four inmates whose death sentences were reduced to life without parole under the state's Racial Justice Act. North Carolina passed the Act in 2009, allowing death row inmates to use statistical studies to show that racial bias affected their trials. The first four cases were heard in 2012. The evidence presented at hearings for defendants Marcus Robinson (l.), Tilmon Golphin, Quintel Augustine, and Christina Walters included testimony that prosecutors made racially charged notes during jury selection and participated in a training seminar where they were taught how to get around laws that banned striking jurors on the basis of race. Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks reduced the sentences of all four inmates to life. In one ruling, Weeks said he found “a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina.” The Racial Justice Act was repealed in 2013, but claims made prior to repeal are still pending. The state brought the current appeal before the state Supreme Court in an attempt to have the death sentences of all four inmates reinstated.

Ohio Commission to Release Recommendations for Death Penalty Reform

In 2011, the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court appointed a blue-ribbon Commission to review the state's death penalty and to make recommendations for reform. On April 10, the Commission prepared to announce 56 recommendations for changing the death penalty, including:

► Require higher standards for proving guilt if a death sentence is sought (such as DNA evidence)
► Bar the death penalty for those who suffer from “serious mental illness”
► Lessen the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty
► Create a Death Penalty Charging Committee at the Attorney General’s Office to approve capital prosecutions
► Adopt a Racial Justice Act to facilitate inequality claims in Ohio courts.

See all 56 proposed recommendations from the Task Force.

NEW VOICES: Former New Hampshire Justices Support Death Penalty Repeal

Two former justices of the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently voiced their support for repealing the death penalty. In an op-ed, Joseph Nadeau (l.) and John Broderick (r.) emphasized the death penalty's lack of deterrent effect, saying, "New Hampshire has not executed anyone for three quarters of a century. Yet, it registered the second lowest murder rate in the nation every year of this century." Murder rates were higher in heavy-use death penalty states, they noted. The former justices said the decision to seek the death penalty is often "random" and "easily influenced by public opinion, political pressure and media attention." They justices said the sentence of life without parole is an appropriate alternative, protecting society and punishing the offender. They concluded: "Abolishing the death penalty will not compromise public safety, but it may replace rage with reason, retribution with self-respect, and enrich the character of our people as a whole." Read the op-ed below.

COSTS: Idaho Study Finds Death Penalty Cases Are Rare, Lengthy, & Costly

A new, but limited, study of the costs of the death penalty in Idaho found that capital cases are more costly and take much more time to resolve than non-capital cases. One measure of death-penalty costs was reflected in the time spent by attorneys handling appeals. The State Appellate Public Defenders office spent about 44 times more time on a typical death penalty appeal than on a life sentence appeal (almost 8,000 hours per capital defendant compared to about 180 hours per non-death penalty defendant). Capital cases with trials took 20.5 months to reach a conclusion while non-capital cases with trials took 13.5 months. The study was commissioned by the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee and performed by the Office of Performance Evaluations.The study also noted how infrequently the death penalty was applied in Idaho: of the 251 defendants who were charged with first-degree murder since 1998, the death penalty was sought against 55 (22%) of them, and just 7 were sentenced to death. More than half of the 40 people sentenced to death since 1977 have received lesser sentences after their death sentences were overturned.

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