I have decided that I need to go on vacation more often. Not only because it is great to take naps in the middle of the workday, but because good things seem to happen when I am away! On August 2, while I was at the beach with my family, the Delaware Supreme Court issued an order declaring Delaware’s death penalty statute to be unconstitutional. See what I mean!
Last year, Delaware’s State Senate voted to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole for the second time in three years. The bill was supported by Governor Jack Markell, despite narrowly failing to get enough votes in the House earlier this year. Given the political obstacles that would have to be overcome to amend the statute, it is unlikely the General Assembly will move to revive the death penalty–rendering the state without a valid death penalty statute, just like New York state.
Delaware now joins the growing majority of states that have abandoned the death penalty in law or in practice. Including Delaware, nineteen states and the District of Columbia formally ban capital punishment, and 12 states haven’t carried out an execution in approximately 10 or more years (CO, NH, KS, CO, CA, AR, WY, MT, NC, NV, OR, and NE). Three of those 12 states have gubernatorial moratoriums on executions in place (Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) and Nebraska’s conservative legislature voted to replace the death penalty with life without parole last year. Whether the repeal statute will remain in Nebraska will be decided by the voters in November. Washington state also has a gubernatorial moratorium in place.
Also happening last week, a poll released by the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center found that nearly three-quarters of Kentuckians (72.4%) would support a moratorium on executions while problems in the administration of Kentucky’s death penalty are addressed. The poll also found that 57.8% of respondents preferred a lengthy prison term (options ranged from 20-50 years to life without parole) over the death penalty for people convicted of first-degree murder, while 68% said they would support replacing the death penalty with life without parole if administration of the death penalty and its constitutionally-mandated appeals were found to cost substantially more than life in prison. The last execution in Kentucky was carried out in 2008.
Wait, there’s more. The Movement for Black Lives issued a 40-point policy platform that includes a call for the abolition of capital punishment. The platform, which was written or endorsed by more than 60 activist groups including the Black Lives Matter Network, describes its purpose as “articulat[ing] our vision of a fundamentally different world.” The portion of the platform seeking “an end to capital punishment” calls the death penalty “morally repugnant,” and links it to the legacy of race-based lynchings against Blacks in the U.S. “The death penalty devalues Black lives,” it states, going on to describe capital punishment as “geographically discriminatory,” “expensive,” and “randomly and arbitrarily sought by prosecutors.” The document also raises concerns about the issue of innocence, noting that 156 people have been exonerated from death row, and capital punishment’s connections to mental health and trauma, stating, “many people on death row have mental illnesses, cognitive limitations, severe trauma histories, and prior criminal records, often directly related to racial bias and poverty.”
It was a quite a week. The momentum continues, and the number of those calling for an end to the death penalty increases by the day. TADP, with our partners and supporters in Tennessee, are ramping up our work moving into the fall as we prepare for a new legislative session in 2017. Repeal is coming to Tennessee, and we can get there sooner with your help.
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