States Go to Bizarre Lengths to Keep Capital Punishment

Even though Americans’ support of the death penalty hit a 40-year low last year, states across the nation are going to extraordinary lengths to maintain their ability to execute their citizens.

Currently 31 states still exercise capital punishment, and while the overall trend among states has been to abolish it, some are fighting tooth and nail to keep it in place. A number of developments during this month alone have shown the great efforts various states’ lawmakers are making in this regard.

In Florida, the state’s death row practices have turned into a major flash point for capital punishment opponents. Over a year ago a U.S. Supreme Court ruling forced the state to halt all executions; it found Florida’s practice of leaving the final sentencing decision to a judge, rather than a jury, to be unconstitutional.

Eager to resume executions, Florida lawmakers swiftly unveiled revamped laws. The Florida Supreme Court, however, did not find this to be satisfactory and once again the state was forced to hold off on executions.

This month new legislation which would finally require a jury to be unanimous in recommending capital punishment took major steps toward facing a formal vote, meaning the return of Florida’s death row could be right around the corner.

Florida is far from the only state scrambling to hang on to capital punishment, though.

After a committee hearing in Colorado, state lawmakers shot down any hope of seeking a vote on a bill that would end the death penalty. It was the first such attempt following a previously unsuccessful push four years ago.

While Florida and Colorado are more or less working to maintain the status quo, other states appear to be taking steps taking them further away from abolition.

In recent times lethal injection became the standard method of execution across the United States, primarily due to being, relatively speaking, humane compared to other methods.

The well publicized nationwide shortages of pentobarbital, the lethal injection drug of choice, in recent years has prompted some states to consider bringing back previously discarded forms of capital punishment.

Following in Utah’s steps, the Mississippi House of Representatives recently voted through a proposal to permit the use of firing squads as well as gas chambers and electrocution. But that’s not as troubling as it gets.

Without a doubt the most bizarre attempt at “innovating” the capital punishment process in lately came from Arizona this week. It came in the form of a protocol update from the state’s corrections department that would permit and even encourage the legal representatives whose clients have been sentenced to death row to provide their own lethal injection drugs.

Yes, you did read correctly.

Legal experts in Arizona and elsewhere have called this decision to be “frankly absurd” and “nonsensical.” An assistant federal public defender in Arizona who deals in capital punishment cases, Dale Baich, says the protocol is legally “impossible and ethically as well.” He accuses the state of trying to force the burden of maintaining the constitutional integrity of capital punishment onto convicts and their lawyers.

As disheartening – and baffling – as these various developments may be for supporters of the death row abolition, there are some states moving in at least somewhat hopeful directions.

This week a law fundamentally altering Alabama’s death row sentencing process took a key step toward a vote after approval from the state’s House. Though it does not aim to end capital punishment, the bill would remove judges’ ability to override a jury’s recommendation for life imprisonment, and instead would require unanimity from the jury for a sentencing decision.

Washington’s House of Representatives recently held a committee hearing regarding a bill that actually would rid the state of the death penalty. Since 2014, Washington’s governor has had all executions put on hold and pressure has followed to end them altogether. Though approval of the initiative has yet to come to a vote, it appears to have significant support from key officials including Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Americans are waking up to the reality that capital punishment is both morally and fiscally wrong. Though supporters of death row’s use maintain that one of its primarily functions is to serve as a deterrent, there is absolutely no proof of this from criminologists.

And as numerous studies have proven, capital punishment is virtually always substantially more costly to the criminal justice system (and the taxpayers who fund it) than life imprisonment by a significant margin.

Perhaps, rather than performing creative contortions to cling to death row, states should read the writing on the wall and seek a path to abolishing state-sanctioned killings.

Photo Credit: AVNphotolab / Thinkstock

54 comments

Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

Thanks for posting.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 months ago

It's up to states to decide whether to use capital punishment or not. If you don't agree with it, work to change those laws. I do agree with the use of capital punishment.

Jonathan Y the Bible does have those statements but it also says an eye for an eye...You can prove anything with the Bible especially if you take things out of context.

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Jonathan Y
Jonathan Y3 months ago

Arkansas' Gov. Hutchinson just signed an order for 8 inmates to be executed before their Midazolam supply reaches its expiration date - that's next month, close together like bowling pins. He claims to regret the crowded schedule, but it's crocodile tears.

Aside from the religious hypocrisy of a religious state violating the Lord's commandments set forth in the Bible (Thou Shalt Not Kill, Vengeance is Mine Sayeth the Lord), it's an astonishing disposal of human beings to meet a supply deadline. More odious since Midazolam is a tranquilizer, not a painkiller, and those executed with it often survive for hours, experiencing the pain of CNS shutdown in spite of it. Cruel and unusual to say the least.

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Marc P
Marc P4 months ago

While many of you are out there supporting the death penalty, I ask that you consider this: Since 1973, 151 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death Row. And there were many more cases where despite a huge likelihood of actual innocence, people were executed. Why? Because police and prosecutors destroyed all evidence that could show actual innocence. Or that would show that prosecutors and/or police acted criminally in gaining arrests and convictions. Benjamin Franklin said it best: "it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer" Back in the day this type of thinking was known as being ethical.

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Marc P
Marc P4 months ago

The Death Penalty is supported by Government so vigorously because it is the most poignant message to citizens that you are, in the end, nothing more than Government property, and your live belongs to it.

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Janis K
Janis K4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Margie F
Margie FOURIE4 months ago

I am on the fence here.

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Liliana Garcia
Liliana G4 months ago

Thanks for this article. It would be a way to lead towards healing the terrible mess in which USA society is submerged. That country would join the big number of other countries in which such punishment is not allowed.

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Quanta K
Quanta Kiran4 months ago

i'm for capital punishment. i was watching a crime story on the volks who were murdered by a distant relative. During ht einvestigation, the police stumbled across a trio of teens that went on a three month killing spree, murdering the elderly. how can you possibly justify their upkeep in a jail. i would rather have that money spent on the kids in the government institutions.

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Shirley S
Shirley S4 months ago

There are some people who commit such heinous crimes that they have forfeited their right to remain on the planet. As long as there is not a shadow of doubt in these cases I believe they should be put down.

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