[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----NEW JERSEY
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Dec 9 23:37:35 CST 2008
Death penalty: Will other states follow N.J.?
A year after New Jersey became the 1st state in a generation to repeal the
death penalty, capital punishment opponents in Maryland and New Mexico are
pointing to recent political developments in their states as a sign they
could be next.
A Maryland commission that has been studying the states death penalty for
6 months will issue a report to Gov. Martin OMalley (D) by Dec. 15
recommending that capital punishment be eliminated. The commission voted
13-7 in November to recommend a repeal after finding, among other things,
that the death penalty is applied unfairly and costs more than life
Anti-capital punishment lawmakers, citizens' groups, religious
organizations and other activists in Maryland say the commissions findings
could provide the political momentum they need to win passage of a repeal
bill when the General Assembly convenes in January.
Similar legislation fell a single vote short in a Maryland state Senate
committee in 2007, even after OMalley took the rare step of testifying for
it. Opponents of the death penalty now are lobbying a handful of state
senators including Catholics who may be inclined to join their churchs
opposition to executions to support a repeal.
In New Mexico, it is not the work of a commission, but the outcome of
Novembers elections that could lead to a repeal, supporters say. In the
state Senate, where a repeal bill failed narrowly after it passed the
House of Representatives in 2007, Democrats gained three seats, and
Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D) told Stateline.org he is "very
hopeful" the pick-ups will propel the legislation early next year.
But it is President-elect Barack Obamas selection of New Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson (D) as his commerce secretary that could have even bigger
implications. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D), who would take over for
Richardson if he is confirmed for his new role by the U.S. Senate, is
viewed as more sympathetic to a repeal than the outgoing governor.
"Our primary difficulties in the Senate (in 2007) were with the executive.
The governor was running for president, and he simply preferred not to
have that bill reach his desk," said state Rep. Gail Chasey (D), who has
sponsored repeal legislation in past sessions.
Denish's office did not respond to requests for comment.
Bills to repeal the death penalty are frequently introduced in many of the
36 states that allow capital punishment and where advocacy groups have
long mounted protests. Critics cite numerous reasons for opposing the
death penalty, and public defenders have continued to argue that lethal
injection could inflict "cruel and unusual punishment" on condemned
prisoners even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that it does
Recent repeal efforts have focused increasingly on its costs, a lobbying
tactic that could prove more effective as states address a fiscal crisis
in their next legislative sessions.
A New Jersey state commission that recommended abolition of the death
penalty in early 2007 found that capital punishment is costlier than a
sentence of life without parole, though it did not specify by how much. In
Maryland, the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research group based in
Washington, D.C., provided a report to the state's study commission
finding that capital cases cost taxpayers roughly $1.9 million more than
Supporters of capital punishment in Maryland disputed how the costs in the
Urban Institutes study were calculated. In addition, many say costs
shouldnt be a factor in the public debate over capital punishment at all.
"Justice is not a cost-benefit analysis. Justice is doing the right thing,
no matter how much it costs," Joseph Cassilly, a state's attorney in
Harford County, Md., testified at a public hearing of the Maryland study
commission in August.
While legislation to repeal the death penalty has made progress in several
states in recent years even in traditionally conservative areas such as
Montana and Nebraska supporters of capital punishment also are quick to
note that a bills relative success in past years does not guarantee it
will be popular in the future. "Every session the dynamics are different.
Because you've had some partial success on moving a bill through doesn't
necessarily mean the same thing is going to happen the next time when the
dynamics have changed," said Henry Valdez, a district attorney in Sante
Fe, N.M., who opposes the death penalty.
While opponents of capital punishment have made their voices heard in
recent years, Valdez said, "the 1st time a 9-year-old girl is raped and
killed, the advocates on the other side are going to come out."
In at least one state where a repeal of the death penalty recently has
come close to reaching the governor's desk Nebraska political conditions
have changed considerably and could hamper similar efforts in the future.
Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers, the chief supporter of a repeal in the
nonpartisan, unicameral Legislature, was forced out through term limits.
Chambers' departure has left death-penalty opponents without a
"standard-bearer," according to DeMaris Johnson, executive director of the
Nebraska County Attorneys Association, which has supported the death
In addition, the Nebraska Supreme Court in February struck down the states
only method of execution the electric chair as unconstitutional, and
Johnson said she expects the Legislature to concentrate on approving a new
method, such as lethal injection, rather than debating an outright repeal
of capital punishment.
But opponents of capital punishment say they are making slow but steady
Even before New Jersey repealed its death penalty late last year, capital
punishment was on the wane in the United States. Most of the nations
executions are carried out in a handful of states, led by Texas, Virginia
and Oklahoma, and overall numbers of death sentences and executions have
trended downward. The U.S. Supreme Courts review of lethal injection,
which it took up late last year, caused a nationwide moratorium on all
executions that added to the decline.
After the execution of an inmate in South Carolina last week, 37 people
have been put to death in the United States this year, according to the
Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. If no
others are executed and it appears unlikely any will 2008 will end with
fewer executions than any year since 1994, according to the center.
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