Death penalty gets boost in three US states

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Don­ald Trump’s up­set pres­i­den­tial elec­tion win has dom­i­nated global head­lines, but for those against cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, Elec­tion Day of­fered other sur­prise: Three states voted to re­in­state or oth­er­wise sup­port the death penalty. The mea­sures voted through in Ok­la­homa, Ne­braska and Cal­i­for­nia via ref­er­en­dum are not ex­pected to spark a sharp rise in the num­ber of ex­e­cu­tions, but ac­tivists say they are a step in the wrong di­rec­tion.

“Those states have cho­sen a failed, bro­ken pol­icy when they had the chance to move to­wards a new dawn,” said Shari Sil­ber­stein, di­rec­tor of the ad­vo­cacy group Equal Jus­tice USA. “The death penalty’s demise is in­evitable. We have a long list of ev­i­dence why that’s true,” she added. In 2016, the United States is on course for its low­est num­ber of ex­e­cu­tions since 1991. This comes as post-con­vic­tion ap­peals in cap­i­tal cases tend to be­come more and more fre­quent than in other cases, in­creas­ing the time and cost be­fore an ex­e­cu­tion can ac­tu­ally be car­ried out.

There is also a short­age of the chem­i­cals needed for lethal in­jec­tions be­cause phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firms, mainly those lo­cated in Europe where the death penalty has been abol­ished, refuse to sup­ply them. The death penalty was not a ma­jor is­sue in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, as nei­ther Trump nor Hil­lary Clin­ton op­pose it. But in three states of vary­ing political stripes, vot­ers chose to back it.

In Ok­la­homa, the death penalty was le­gal, but it faced mount­ing chal­lenges in court over the lethal in­jec­tion ma­te­ri­als used, with lawyers for in­mates charg­ing that they cause un­due suf­fer­ing - a vi­o­la­tion of the Eighth Amend­ment, which bans “cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment”. Be­sides vot­ing 65 per­cent in fa­vor of Trump, vot­ers in this con­ser­va­tive Mid­west­ern state made clear they are tired of ex­e­cu­tions be­ing delayed.

They voted two to one for a mea­sure en­shrin­ing the death penalty in the state con­sti­tu­tion - a clause de­signed to counter pos­si­ble ju­di­cial ap­peals from de­fense lawyers of death row in­mates. The new law in Ok­la­homa also al­lows the au­thor­i­ties to choose “any method of ex­e­cu­tion not pro­hib­ited by the United States Con­sti­tu­tion”. Au­thor­i­ties in Ok­la­homa now hope to be able to use ni­tro­gen as­phyx­i­a­tion.

Ne­braska, a bit fur­ther to the north and also strongly Repub­li­can, re­in­stated the death penalty by a vote of 61 per­cent in fa­vor. The ref­er­en­dum re­scinds a law ban­ning the death penalty that the state leg­is­la­ture passed last year. But this Great Plains state, where the last ex­e­cu­tion was car­ried out in 1997, will likely run into a short­age of lethal chem­i­cals. This prob­lem af­fects nearly all of the 31 US states that al­low the death penalty.

“Ne­braska has no av­enue to pur­chase killing drugs and has no ex­e­cu­tion process in place. There will be no ex­e­cu­tions there any time soon,” said Helen Pre­jean, a nun whose work fight­ing the death penalty was im­mor­tal­ized in the Os­car-win­ning film “Dead Man Walk­ing”. Pre­jean urged those against cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment not to be dis­cour­aged by the Elec­tion Day set­backs, the third of which came in Cal­i­for­nia, where vot­ers faced a rad­i­cal choice.

Cal­i­for­ni­ans had to vote on two con­tra­dic­tory mea­sures. One aimed to ban cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment; that was re­jected by 54 per­cent of vot­ers. The other aimed to speed up the pro­ce­dure and limit prospects for ap­peal; it passed. Cal­i­for­nia has not ex­e­cuted any­one for a decade, but it has the most crowded death row of any US state, at 741 in­mates. Ex­e­cu­tions are now on hold in the Golden State be­cause of law­suits chal­leng­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the lethal in­jec­tion method. Ex­perts ex­pect longer de­lays in car­ry­ing out ex­e­cu­tions. Else­where, in Ge­or­gia, au­thor­i­ties an­nounced Thurs­day that Steven Fred­er­ick Spears, con­victed of mur­der­ing his ex-girl­friend in 2007, would be put to death next week. If the ex­e­cu­tion goes ahead, the south­ern state will have car­ried out six ex­e­cu­tions this year - a record since the Supreme Court re­in­stated cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment four decades ago. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.