Recent Legislative Activity

Racial Justice Act Moves Closer to Passage in North Carolina

On May 12, the North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to prevent racial bias in the administration of the death penalty. The senate's action came just hours after a House panel passed a nearly identical bill, known as the Racial Justice Act.  The bill allows those convicted or accused of capital murder to argue through the use of statistical studies that race played a role in their death sentence or a prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty.  If that bias is proven, a judge could vacate the death sentence or order that capital punishment not be sought.  The next step for either version of the Racial Justice Act is a vote on the House or Senate floor. Two years ago, the House approved a similar bill.  A video about the Racial Justice Act produced by the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium may be viewed here.



With Death Penalty System Bogged Down, Connecticut Considers Abolition

On March 8, Connecticut held a legislative hearing about what should be done with the state's death penalty. The Judiciary Committee has already approved a bill to abolish capital punishment.  Connecticut has carried out only one execution since 1973, and that was with an inmate who waived his appeals and volunteered for execution.  The Chief State’s Attorney, Kevin T. Kane submitted a proposal to reform the system, but it would curtail the appeals process used to protect against mistakes.  Kane told the Committee that the death penalty should be abolished if it wasn’t fixed. ”Right now, we have a situation that there's no end to it,” said Kane. “There's no end that I can see, at least in my lifetime. There's no hope that I can give a victim … that the death penalty will be imposed. The legislature should either repeal it or fix it.”   In 2005, Connecticut lawmakers also debated a proposal to repeal capital punishment.

Colorado Continues Death Penalty With Legislators Evenly Split on Repeal

A bill to repeal the death penalty and use the funds saved to investigate unsolved murder cases in Colorado was defeated in the state senate by a vote of 18-17 on May 6.  The House had earlier approved the bill by a vote of 33-32.  On May 4, the senate had approved an amendment, dropping the repeal of the death penalty and funding the cost of investigating cold cases through a $2.50 fine to convicted felons.  However, the conference committee restored the repeal provision and the senate rejected the committee's proposal after an impassioned debate.  The repeal bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Morgan Carroll, expressed concerns about the risks of the death penalty, including executing the innocent. “In a democracy,” she said, “the decisions of the state come with blood on all of our hands in the event that we are wrong.” In all, 50 legislators voted for repeal, and 50 voted against repeal. 

Colorado's House Passes Bill to Repeal the Death Penalty; Money Saved Would Go to Cold Cases

On April 20, Colorado’s House voted 33-32 to repeal the death penalty.  The bill, which now heads to the Senate, would shift funds used to prosecute cases and maintain the death penalty to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for closing unsolved murder cases. Proponents of the bill believe the state would save close to $4 million by repealing the death penalty, and dozens of family members with unsolved murder cases testified that those funds could be better used solving cold cases. While there has been only one execution in Colorado in the past 40 years, there are currently 1,435 unsolved murders across the state. “This is a very heartening development, not only for the families of these victims whose killers have never been prosecuted, but also for all the Coloradans who live in the communities that have been terrorized by the realization that we have killers walking among us and murderers living in our neighborhoods,” said Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons. “This vote by the House sends the strong message that we will no longer take a passive approach to old, unsolved murders. Colorado now intends to be proactive in going after these killers.”  Gov. Bill Ritter has not yet announced if he would sign the bill into law if it made it to his desk.

LEGISLATION: Virginia Senate Upholds Governor's Veto of Death Penalty Expansion

The Virginia Senate upheld Gov. Tim Kaine’s vetoes of proposals to expand capital punishment on April 8.  The Senate vote fell short of the two-thirds needed to override Gov. Kaine’s vetoes of the bills that would have extended capital punishment to murder accomplices who were not the actual killer and to those who kill on-duty fire marshals and auxiliary police officers.  This marks the third consecutive year that Gov. Kaine has vetoed bills to expand capital punishment to accomplices.  “Virginia, we execute enough people.  We don’t need to expand it,” explained Kaine.

EDITORIALS: Hartford Courant Calls for End to Connecticut's Death Penalty

The Hartford Courant has called for an end to the death penalty in Connecticut, citing its costs and risks.  The paper called a legislative committee’s work toward abolishing Connecticut’s death penalty “brave,” and said the state’s capital punishment system was “unworkable, not to mention expensive, unfair, and risky.”  They quoted State Sen. Mary Anne Handley who said: "The death penalty is neither swift nor certain. It may even be certain that it's not going to happen."  The editorial concluded, “The state's goal should be to keep society safe. It can accomplish that without the expectation of executions that rarely if ever take place.”  The full editorial may be read below:

STUDIES: The Application of the Death Penalty in New Mexico

A study by attorney Marcia Wilson was recently published in the New Mexico Law Review: “The Application of the Death Penalty in New Mexico, July 1979 through December 2007: An Empirical Analysis.”  Wilson's research reveals new information on how the death penalty was applied in New Mexico after its reinstatement.  The article was published before New Mexico repealed the death penalty in March 2009, and served as valuable information during the legislative debate.  Wilson concluded, “The numbers and percentages here suggest that the imposition of the death penalty in New Mexico is still influenced by legally irrelevant issues such as where or when the crime was committed and the race or ethnicity of the victim and the defendant.” 

Between 1979 through 2007 in New Mexico:

  • 211 death penalty cases filed
  • 203 were resolved by the end of 2007
  • 9 cases were dismissed before trial
  • 47.8% of the resolved cases ended with a plea bargain and a sentence less than death
  • 46.9% of the resolved cases went to trial
  • 25% of the resolved cases had a penalty trial
  • 15 people were sentened to death
  • 2 defendants remained on death row still challenging their death sentence
  • 1 defendant was executed (after dropping his appeals).

Maryland Legislature Passes Bill Restricting Use of Death Penalty

On March 26, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill requiring specific evidence of guilt if the death penalty is sought.  The same bill was passed earlier by the Senate, and the governor supports the legislation.  Calling it a "step forward," Gov. O’Malley indicated he will sign the bill, limiting capital cases to those with biological or DNA evidence of guilt, a videotaped confession, or a videotape linking the defendant to a homicide.  The restrictions derived from an amendment during the Senate’s consideration of a bill to abolish the death penalty.  The current bill is designed to lessen the possibility of executing an innocent person. Maryland has executed five prisoners since reinstating the death penalty in 1978 and has five other inmates on death row.