Kansas

Kansas

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.

COSTS: Kansas Study Examines High Cost of Death Penalty Cases

Defending a death penalty case costs about four times as much as defending a case where the death penalty is not sought, according to a new study by the Kansas Judicial Council. Examining 34 potential death-penalty cases from 2004-2011, the study found that defense costs for death penalty trials averaged $395,762 per case, compared to $98,963 per case when the death penalty was not sought. Costs incurred by the trial court showed a similar disparity: $72,530 for cases with the death penalty; $21,554 for those without. Even in cases that ended in a guilty plea and did not go to trial, cases where the death penalty was sought incurred about twice the costs for both defense ($130,595 v. $64,711) and courts ($16,263 v. $7,384), compared to cases where death was not sought. The time spent on death cases was also much higher. Jury trials averaged 40.13 days in cases where the death penalty was being sought, but only 16.79 days when it was not an option. Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court assigned to write opinions estimated they spent 20 times more hours on death penalty appeals than on non-death appeals. The Department of Corrections said housing prisoners on death row cost more than twice as much per year ($49,380) as for prisoners in the general population ($24,690). 

Preliminary Cost Figures Released as Death Penalty Hearings Approach

The Kansas Judicial Council, an advisory body to the legislature, released preliminary findings on the cost of the death penalty in preparation for legislative hearings on a repeal measure. The council found that state Supreme Court Justices spend 20 times more hours on death penalty appeals than on non-capital appeals; the Department of Corrections spends than twice as much ($49,380 versus $24,690) to house a death-row inmate per year as to house a general-population inmate; and capital cases take more than twice as many days in district court as non-capital cases. A 2003 study of the cost of the death penalty in Kansas found that death penalty cases cost about 70% more than other cases. Two bills dealing with capital punishment will have hearings in the legislature on January 16 - one that would replace the death penalty with life without parole, and another that would seek to speed the appeals process in capital cases. Sen. Carolyn McGinn, (R-Sedgwick), who sponsored the repeal bill, said, "I feel it's an important issue any time we talk about government having sole authority to take lives." 

Supreme Court Reverses Kansas Self-Incrimination Ruling

On December 11, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that had granted relief to death row inmate Scott Cheever. The Kansas court had held that Cheever's 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination had been violated because testimony was given at his sentencing hearing by a psychiatrist who examined Cheever pursuant to a court order. Cheever had claimed he was under the influence of drugs at the time of the crime. The psychiatrist testified that his "antisocial personality," rather than his drug use, explained his crime. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the Court, said, "[W]here a defense expert who has examined the defendant testifies that the defendant lacked the requisite mental state to commit an offense, the prosecution may present psychiatric evidence in rebuttal." Since Cheever was relying on his mental state for his defense, the prosecution was entitled to present contrary evidence on his mental state. In an earlier case, the Court had ruled psychiatric statements could not be used against a defendant who "neither initiates a psychiatric evaluation nor attempts to introduce any psychiatric evidence."

NEW VOICES: Kansas Republican Says 'Nothing Conservative About the Death Penalty'

Chase Blasi is on the Board of the Kansas Young Republicans and president of the Colwich City Council. In a recent op-ed in the Witchita Eagle, Blasi challenged the idea that "if you are conservative you must favor the death penalty." Instead he noted, "repeal of the death penalty is an important step for promoting a culture of life. The death penalty is simply not necessary to protect life, given that there are alternatives such as life in prison without parole available to keep society secure." He called the death penalty "an ineffective government program that wastes millions in taxpayer dollars," and concluded, "If we, as conservatives, are serious about cutting costs and promoting a culture of life, then our position on the death penalty is a no-brainer. Repeal it." Read the full op-ed below.

SUPREME COURT: Self Incrimination at Issue in Kansas Case

On October 16 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Kansas v. Cheever. One of the key defense witnesses in Scott Cheever’s death penalty trial testified that Cheever’s use of drugs impaired his judgement on the day of the crime. Prosecutors, in turn, called the physician who performed Cheever’s court-mandated mental exam, and he testified that Cheever was aware of what he was doing when he committed the crime, based on Cheever's own statements to the doctor. The doctor's testimony prompted the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn Cheever’s conviction because prosecutors had violated Cheever’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Following oral argument, the Court will decide whether Cheever must be retried or his conviction and death sentence stands. 

Kansas May Consider Death Penalty Repeal in 2014

Legislators in Kansas have said they may debate the repeal of the death penalty in 2014. Senate Vice President Jeff King said a recent session on other criminal justice issues indicated a need for a broader discussion of sentences for murder. Senator David Haley, who supports repeal of the death penalty, said, “I believe now is the time for a discussion among those in the Legislature who consider religion a main part of their public service to decide whether it’s necessary for a barbaric and immoral law [to] remain on the books.” A senate bill to repeal capital punishment almost passed in 2010 with a 20-20 vote. Donna Schneweis, chair of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said, “What we are witnessing is there really is support across the political spectrum, including conservatives, libertarians. It’s not just moderates and liberals who are opposed." Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but has not had any executions since then.

EDITORIALS: "End the Death Penalty in Kansas and Missouri"

The Kansas City Star recently called for an end to the death penalty in Kansas and Missouri. The editors wrote, "The arc of history is bending toward justice when it comes to the death penalty, and there’s no good reason Missouri and Kansas should lag behind and continue to be on the wrong side of both history and justice." The high costs of implementing capital punishment and the risks of wrongful executions were among the  reasons cited for doing away with the punishment. With respect to innocence, the paper stated, "The Innocence Project reports that, through the use of DNA evidence, 18 death row prisoners so far have been exonerated. They already had served a total of 229 years behind bars in 11 different states. That should never happen. Nor should execution of the innocent, but the only way to be positive it doesn’t is to ban capital punishment." Kansas has not had a execution since it reinstated the death penalty in 1994. The editorial concluded, “Kansas and Missouri should follow Maryland’s recent example and become the 19th and 20th states to adopt a sane and civilized approach to this matter.” Read full editorial below.

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