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.
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