Despite NH Loss, Support Growing for Death Penalty Repeal

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The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison in California. Photo by CACorrections

A majority of lawmakers in New Hampshire voted on Thursday in support of abolishing the death penalty, but fell two votes shy of overriding Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of a repeal bill. Despite the outcome, observers and abolitionists say support for the cause is at a new high in the state, and continues to gain traction around the country.

New Hampshire’s death penalty repeal bill passed through two Republican-controlled chambers; while state senators voted 14-10 in support of repealing on Thursday, 16 votes are required to override a gubernatorial veto.

“That shows real momentum and the bill will certainly be back next year,” said the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

Thirty-one states still have death penalty laws still on the books; and 12 of those states either have an official moratorium on executions, or have had no executions in over a decade. Earlier this year, CCADP told The Crime Report the group was hopeful about repeal efforts in New Hampshire, Washington State, and Utah. While none have yet succeeded, observers still note a trend favoring abolition, despite hardening positions on both sides in response to the Trump administration.

“What’s notable is that the efforts to repeal the death penalty have become increasingly bipartisan,” Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) told The Crime Report.

“Since the efforts to abolish the death penalty are incremental, even the efforts that do not succeed in a given year are an indicator of what the long term trends are.”

A Washington repeal bill, hailed as a way to reduce criminal justice expenses, gained more support this year than similar efforts in the past 5 years, passing the Senate in a strong bipartisan vote; but did not move for a House vote before the session ended. “The prospects for repeal in Washington state look favorable, but that may depend on the outcome of the November elections,” Dunham told The Crime Report.

Similarly, a bill to abolish the death penalty in Utah came close to passing earlier this year, but was yanked by its sponsor at the last minute, who told colleagues it was best left for a future legislature.

This summer, abolitionists found a new ally in conservative commentator and author Michelle Malkin, who tweeted that “After having my eyes opened to systemic corruption of our criminal (in)justice system at the hands of bad detectives, incompetent PD crime labs & out-of-control prosecutors, I no longer support the death penalty.”

In August, Pope Francis spoke out unequivocally against the death penalty, declaring it to be wrong in all cases. “A number of the legislatures in which the votes are close have Catholic legislators who are on the fence about the death penalty or who had been supportive of it,” said Dunham. For those who are undecided, “This is something that can empower them to vote their conscience.” (Washington State House Speaker Frank Chopp, who did not bring the repeal bill up for a vote, is a Catholic).

“Even in red states not yet examining repeal, we have seen good momentum from leadership on this issue,” CCADP’s Hannah Cox told The Crime Report, noting Ohio Governor John Kasich’s recent grants of clemency to death row inmates William Montgomery and Raymond Tibbetts, and a death penalty study produced by Pennsylvania that calls for significant changes to the law.

“All of these developments show real progress and a growing consensus on the right that the death penalty is another wasteful government program that does not deter crime, risks innocent lives, and costs too much,” said Cox.

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