New Mexico Legislature Repeals Death Penalty!
New Mexico’s state legislature has voted to repeal capital punishment. The bill has gone to the desk of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM). Previously, Richardson had seemed favorable to such repeal, but he now seems to be wavering and some reports have him considering a veto. Contact Gov. Richardson and urge him to sign this historic legislation. (Richardson is a devout Catholic, so you might remind him that the Catholic church has been in favor of death penalty abolition for decades.)
Currently, 36 U.S. states have the death penalty, but 11 are considering repeal. New Mexico could be a pioneer. It would be the 15th U.S. State to repeal the death penalty (a few never had it). New Jersey and New York repealed capital punishment in 2007. For New York this was the 2nd time around. It had repealed the death penalty in the 1950s, but reinstated it in the early ’90s when a “hang ’em high/law and order” movement swept the country.
Oddly enough, the deep recession has pushed for more abolition (because, contrary to popular myth, life imprisonment is cheaper than the death penalty for a variety of reasons). Here in Kentucky, for instance, our budget crisis threatens to end or severely cripple our public defender program. In light of that legal experts are calling on Gov. Steve Beshear (D-KY) to impose a moratorium on executions because the Constitution requires a right to competent defense.
A list of major religious statements against the death penalty can be found here. Since I am a Baptist, whose own particular Baptist denomination (the Alliance of Baptists) has not made any statements on the matter, let me quote the statement of the American Baptist Churches, USA (June 1977–just following the Supreme Court decision, Gregg v. Georgia which allowed states to resume capital punishment if it could be applied in a non-arbitrary manner) and updated afterward):
Until the Gilmore case in 1979, there had been no execution in the United States in 10 years. The ritual taking of life had ceased while debate continued in the courts regarding the constitutionality of capital punishment.
Now that the death laws in some states have been upheld, over 400 persons nationwide face possible execution by hanging, firing squad, asphyxiation, or electrocution. Such punishment has been abolished in Canada and most of Europe, where it is seen as morally unacceptable and a form of cruel and unusual punishment inconsistent with religious and/or ethical traditions.
The majority of those on death row are poor, powerless, and educationally deprived. Almost 50 percent come from minority groups. This reflects the broad inequities within our society, and the inequity with which the ultimate is applied. This alone is sufficient reason for opposing it as immoral and unjust.
Since further legal actions to stop executions appear unpromising, it is more important than ever that the religious community speak to the moral, religious and ethical implications of killing by the state. Numerous secular and religious groups have recently taken positions in opposition to capital punishment.
THEREFORE, we as American Baptists, condemn the current reinstatement of capital punishment and oppose its use under any new or old state or federal law, and call for an immediate end to planned executions throughout this country.
We urge American Baptists in every state to act as advocates against the passage of new death penalty laws, and to act individually and in concert with others to prevent executions from being carried out.
We appeal to the governors of each state where an execution is pending to act with statesmanship and courage by commuting to life imprisonment without parole all capital cases within their jurisdiction.
I have been active in working for the abolition of the death penalty since my teens. I have written several articles which have been published as chapters in books on the death penalty. (One is being reprinted now in a collection edited by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.) I believe that those of us who worship One unjustly executed, and who believe that God alone is sovereign over life and death, cannot support state-sanctioned murder. I also believe that we risk executing innocent persons and that the death penalty works symbolically against real and meaningful prison reform and is an ineffective tool in fighting crime.
Those who wish to study more on the topic are invited to begin here.
I pray that Gov. Richardson will sign this historic legislation and that this begins a new wave of death penalty abolition in America.
NOTE: U. S. states without any current death penalty provision in law: Alaska, Hawai’i, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin. In addition, Nebraska’s Supreme Court has ruled its capital punishment law unconstitutional (according to the Nebraska state constitution) and Nebraska has introduced legislation to repeal it; there has also been a rival bill introduced that would modify the death penalty in hopes that it would then pass constitutional muster. Who knows which path Nebraska legislators will take? Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico also have no death penalty.
Legislation on capital punishment is in session in the following states in 2009: AL (Bill to allow death row inmates to demand DNA testing; And what if no DNA is available?); AK (Bill to reinstate the death penalty; Despite its Republican domination, the death penalty is not popular in AK–but is it popular with AK legislators?); AR (Bill to codify lethal injection); CO (Bill to abolish the death penalty and use money saved to solve cold cases. Has passed the House judiciary committee and goes to the full House.); CT: 2 Bills: One would repeal the death penalty, the other would simply require a higher standard of proof; GA (4 bills. 1: allow death penalty without unanimous juries–this dangerous bill unanimously passed the GA senate and the House Judiciary Committee; it is probably unconstitutional; 2. Allow prosecutors to seek life without parole without seeking the death penalty; 3. 2 Yr. moratorium on executions while dp studied; 4. Lower standard of proof for mental retardation in dp cases. U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing those with mental retardation is unconstitutional.) ID: Bill to modify lethal injection law to conform to Supreme CT ruling upholding KY’s lethal injection law. IL: Bill to abolish dp–passed the House Committee–goes to full House and Senate. IN: Bill to exempt severely mentally ill from dp. KS: Bill to abolish dp in all future trials (passed the Sen. Jud. Committee. Goes to full Senate on Monday 16 March). MD: Bill to abolish the death penalty introduced by governor (Ended in Senate by amendment; if passes in House could be returned to Senate); MO: Bill to impose 2 yr. moratorium on executions while dp is studied; MT: Bill to abolish the dp, including for current death row inmates (Passed the senate; goes to house); NB: see above; NV: Bill to impose 2 yr. moratorium on executions while dp is studied. New Hampshire: 4 bills (1. Abolition. 2. Study Commission. 3. Change method to firing squad. 4. EXPAND dp to add crime of murder with firearm.); NM: See above; NC: Bill to exempt mentally ill; A second bill that would allow prisoners to challenge their dp conviction based on racial prejudice; SC: (Bill to forbid identifying any member of execution team or punish anyone for participating in execution. Would that include forbidding any religious sanctions? Because, if so, that’s a violation of religious freedom and unconstitutional.) TN: 4 reform bills growing out of a statewide study. (1. Require defense attorneys in dp cases to be highly qualified. 2. Mandate defense attorneys have uniform access to info against clients. 3. Require police officers to record all interrogations of suspects. 4. Timetables for appeal.) TX: Bill to repeal (in committee) and Bill to eliminate dp for accomplices who did not directly participate (e.g. in a robbery). UT: Proposed constitutional amendment to restrict repeals–defeated in House. VA: 3 bills to expand dp–all face veto by Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA). WA: Bill to repeal death penalty.
Although a few states in that list are moving in the wrong direction, this shows more activity to end capital punishment than in a long time. Pray for a complete abolition worldwide.
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