The 33 U.S. states that still have the death penalty could take a lesson from our Southeastern neighbor. Puerto Rico abolished the death penalty in 1929 and reaffirmed opposition to it in its first constitution in 1952 – calling it a human rights violation. In 2000, a judge ruled that applying the death penalty would violate the Puerto Rican constitution and the federal statute that gives the territory the status of a self-governing entity.
However, in 2001, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Puerto Rico is subject to federal law, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision. This court action means that although capital punishment is constitutionally illegal in the territory, defendants who are tried in federal court can still face the death penalty. However, Puerto Rican juries have continuously rejected the federal death penalty.
The latest case was decided yesterday when a jury instead chose life in prison for Edison Burgos Montes, a convicted drug dealer, found guilty of the 2005 killing of his ex-girlfriend Madelyn Semidey Morales, an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The victim’s parents were pleased with the verdict, telling reporters that they do not believe in capital punishment. “I’m satisfied that justice was served,” Semidey Morales’ mother said.
Two other federal death penalty cases are expected to go before juries in January. The president of the human rights commission of Puerto Rico’s Association of Attorneys said that he doubts any jury would ever seek the death penalty in Puerto Rico, saying, “It is a product of failed federal policies.”
We couldn’t agree more.
(Photo courtesy of latinorebels.com)
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