Recent Legislative Activity

Victims' Families Ask State to End Death Penalty and Solve Cold Cases Instead

A bill is being introduced in Colorado to end the state’s death penalty and to use the resultant savings to investigate the state's more than 1,300 unsolved crimes.  More than 500 residents who have lost friends and family to unsolved murders are pushing for the bill, which is expected to be introduced by House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann.  The proponents estimate that 3 in 10 killers in the state walk free, and catching more killers would be a more effective deterrent than capital punishment and a better use of state funds.  Weissman says abolishing capital punishment could save the state $2 million a year and local authorities another $2.5 million.  “Any other program that cost that much and was used so little would be the first to go,” said Weissman, whose 2007 version of the bill died narrowly on the House floor.  Howard Morton, of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, said, "Our position is very simple. Why talk about penalties when we haven't even caught [them]? Let's do first things first. These murderers are living in our neighborhoods."

California to Hold Public Hearings on Lethal Injection Procedures

The legal fight over California’s lethal injection process moved into a new phase as the state has given up its appeals and decided to follow the administrative rules to put the execution plan through public review.  The state must hold a series of public hearings, which effectively leaves San Quentin’s newly constructed execution chamber empty for the foreseeable future.  This is the latest development in California’s attempt to revise its lethal injection process; executions have remained on hold for nearly three years. 

NEW VOICES: One Year Later, New Jersey Prosecutors Find No Problem with Abolition of Death Penalty

In December 2007, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty in 40 years.  In commenting on the absence of capital punishment for one year, a number of state prosecutors found no problems with the new system.  "We have not viewed it as an impediment in the disposition of murder cases," said Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, who served on a state study commission that reviewed the death penalty. "As a practical matter, we have really seen no difference in the way we conduct our business in prosecuting murder cases."


Maryland Commission Recommends Abolition of Death Penalty in Final Report

The legislative commission established to examine the death penalty in Maryland has recommended abolition of the punishment by a vote of 13-9.  The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment released its final report on December 12, detailing the reasons for its recommendation.  "There is no good and sufficient reason to have the death penalty," Chairman Benjamin R. Civiletti said at a news conference. Regarding the commission's recommendation of repeal rather than reform, he said, "There are so many faults, so many flaws within the system that we could not imagine ... ways in which to cure it."

Tennessee Death Penalty Committee Recommends Changes in Representation Standards

A legislative committee created to study the death penalty in Tennessee has recommended ways to ensure capital cases are handled fairly and effectively.  The committee approved a resolution that asks lawmakers to create a statewide authority whose duties would include identifying lawyers experienced in capital cases, raising the standard pay for such attorneys, and monitoring their caseloads.

Thomas Lee, a Tennessee attorney on the committee, said such an authority would help ensure that "trials are done right the first time."  The committee, created last year after the state legislature decided Tennessee’s death penalty system needed to be examined for fairness and accuracy, will present its findings to the Governor and lawmakers.

NEW VOICES: Law Enforcement Officer Changed Views Because of Death Penalty's Risks

Michael May served as a Baltimore City police officer and as a military police officer. He formerly supported  capital punishment, but changed his stance upon learning of innocent people who had been sentenced to death.  Mr. May testified earlier this yar before the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment.  He recently published an op-ed in the Baltimore Examiner explaining how his views changed and why he supports for repeal of Maryland’s death penalty.  The full op-ed appears below:

Time to end the death penalty in Maryland

Former Death Row Inmates Seek Changes in Texas

Two dozen exonerated ex-death row prisoners from across the country will hold a news conference on October 31 in Austin to call for the establishment of a statewide commission on wrongful convictions and a moratorium on executions in Texas. The 24 men spent a combined total of nearly 200 years on death row before being freed. They will be joined by State Rep. Elliot Naishtat and former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap (pictured).

Texas has executed 417 people since the reinstatement of the death penalty, accounting for 37 percent of all executions nationwide, including 12 so far this year. An additional 16 executions are scheduled in Texas this fall and winter. Nine death row inmates have been exonerated in Texas since 1973, including Michael Blair whose charges were dismissed this year.

(Witness to Innocence Press Release, Oct. 27, 2008). See Innocence and Recent Legislation.

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Rehearing in Kennedy v. Louisiana Opinion

On October 1, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Louisiana's request for a rehearing of the Court's ruling striking down the death penalty for non-homicidal offenses against individuals. Louisiana contended that a recent adjustment to military law that continued to allow the death penalty for child rape should have been taken into account by the Court, resulting in a different opinion. The Court slightly modified both the majority and dissenting opinions to include reference to the military code.