Recent Legislative Activity

MD Senate Reaches Compromise on Death Penalty

On March 4, the Maryland Senate reached a compromise on a death penalty repeal bill by amending the bill so as to restrict capital prosecutions.  The proposed revision to the state’s death penalty statute would preclude murder cases where the only evidence is eyewitness testimony and, in turn, require DNA evidence, videotaped evidence, or a voluntary videotaped confession.  Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat and proponent of death penalty repeal, said his support of the Senate compromise came with mixed emotions.  Raskin said senators did not pay enough attention to the work of a governor-appointed bipartisan commission that carefully studied the state's death penalty. That commission, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, recommended abolishing the death penalty because of its racial and geographical disparities, the risk of executing an innocent person, and its high costs.

NEW VOICES: Jimmy Carter Urges New Mexico Governor to Support Death Penalty Repeal

Former President Jimmy Carter wrote New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson to encourage him to support a bill repealing the death penalty and replacing it with life in prison without parole. "We encourage your support for this comprehensive and visionary approach," Carter wrote. In addition to pointing out how the extra money spent on capital punishment could be better used elsewhere, Carter wrote, "As you know, the United States is one of the few countries, along with nations such as Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba, which still carry out the death penalty despite the ongoing tragedy of wrongful conviction and gross racial and class-based disparities that make impossible the fair implementation of this ultimate punishment.”  

Death Penalty Reform Bills Introduced in Tennessee

A Tennessee legislative study committee has ended its 16-month analysis of the state’s capital punishment process and has made recommendations for achieving a more fair and accurate system:

. Require defense attorneys in capital cases to be highly qualified;
. Mandate that defense attorneys have uniform access to evidence against their clients;
. Require police officers to record all interrogations related to a homicide case;

The committee also recommended that the state set timetables for litigating capital cases to minimize the time that victims' families wait during the appeals process.

NEW VOICES: Maryland's Former Speaker of the House Says "End Capital Punishment"

Casper Taylor, Jr., a long-time Maryland House of Delegates member and former supporter of the death penalty, has written an op-ed calling for the end of capital punishment in Maryland. “In 28 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, nine as speaker, I cast thousands of votes,” wrote Taylor. “I have few regrets. But there is one vote I wish I could take back - my 1978 vote to reinstate the death penalty in Maryland.”  Taylor continued, “Today, that vote haunts me. Since reinstatement, Maryland's 30 years of experience with the death penalty have been a colossal failure. I now believe that life in prison without the possibility of parole is a better alternative. The majority of Marylanders agree.”  The full op-ed may be read below:

Developments in Montana and New Mexico May Lead to Abolition of Death Penalty

Recent developments in Montana and New Mexico may affect the outcome of legislative efforts to abolish the death penalty.  In Montana, the Senate voted 27-23 to end the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole.  It is the second session in a row that such a proposal has cleared the Senate.  New Mexico’s House passed a bill replacing capital punishment with life in prison without parole and the bill is pending in a Senate committee.  Legislatures in both states cited the risk of executing innocent people and the excessive costs of capital punishment as reasons for abolishing the death penalty.  

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said while he would have vetoed such a bill a few years ago, he may sign a repeal bill if it reaches his desk now.  "I'm struggling with my position, but I definitely have softened my view on the death penalty.” He has found the alternative of life in prison without parole “to be a strong punishment” and called the cost of the death penalty “a valid reason in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”

New Mexico House Votes to Repeal Death Penalty

The New Mexico House of Representatives voted February 11 to repeal the death penalty.  After a more than two-hour debate, the House voted 40 to 28 in favor of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole.  This is the third time in recent years New Mexico’s House of Representatives has voted to ban capital punishment.  House Bill 285 will now move to the senate. 

States Introduce Bills to Abolish Death Penalty

Several states have recently introduced legislation to abolish or limit the death penalty.  Bills to end capital punishment have been introduced in at least eight states: Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, New Hampshire, Maryland, Washington, and Kansas.  For some of these states, the high costs of the death penalty has been an important factor in the legislative debates.  For example, Colorado’s bill to abolish the death penalty specifies that the money saved from not pursuing executions could be used for solving cold cases. 

NEW VOICES: Judge Ronald Reagan Challenges Nebraska's Death Penalty

Before his retirement from the court, Judge Ronald Reagan had sentenced a defendant to death and kept his views on the death penalty to himself.  However, as Nebraska is considering a bill to abolish capital punishment, he spoke in favor of its repeal.  "I'm a citizen here. I'd just as soon not have a death penalty," Judge Reagan testified. "It just seems to me that people are recognizing that the death penalty is not an appropriate punishment in a civilized society." Calling capital punishment “state-sanctioned revenge,” Judge Reagan spoke of sentencing a man to death by the electric chair in 1984 despite his lifelong opposition to the death penalty “on philosophical grounds,” because judges are “supposed to apply the law that is given to us,” and “aren’t supposed to be political activists.”  Reagan testified, “I always felt that I couldn’t say anything for 32 years,” and he believes other judges share his viewpoint but are barred from expressing or acting on their opinions while on the bench. 

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