Oklahoma state representative Jason Dunnington (Oklahoma City-D) filed a bill on January 14th that would remove the death penalty from the legal code. HB 2876 is expected to be assigned for a committee hearing in February.
“Ending the death penalty in Oklahoma is not only the fiscally responsible thing to do it is the moral thing to do, “ Dunnington commented in a Twitter post that accompanied his press release announcing the filing of HB 2876.
Dunnington noted this was, “neither a partisan nor ideological proposal,” on his part.
Overall, the popularity of the death penalty is waning in many areas of the country. Missouri HB 1277 was prefiled in December and Ohio’s Republican legislature is discussing possible death penalty reform but no bills are currently filed. Last year the same legislature passed a bill that would prohibit the death penalty for defendants with serious mental illness. Virginia has two prefiled bills for the 2020 legislative session; one to abolish the death penalty entirely and another bill like the one passed by Ohio, intended to exempt defendants with serious mental illnesses from being sentenced to death.
“Last year we saw 11 states introduce Republican sponsored bills to repeal the death penalty and expect to see similar levels in 2020. Conservatives have realized the death penalty is a failed big government program that does not meet our values. It wastes millions of dollars, risks innocent life, and is as big government as programs can get,” Hannah Cox, National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty said about the legislative action.
Despite this trend some states seem to be going in the opposite direction: New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Iowa all considered bills in 2019 to reinstate the death penalty. Tennessee passed a bill which removes the appeal of a death penalty conviction to the court of criminal appeals and allows for automatic direct review by the Tennessee supreme court.
An increasing number of states are adding up the costs and deciding that not only is the practice too expensive but that the margin of error is also unacceptable. Current statistics state that 1 out of 10 people on death row is innocent or their case have what are described as “innocence issues”.
Innocence issues vary by case but some of the most severe include states that refuse to test DNA evidence that could exonerate some inmates on death row, like in the case of Sedley Alley. Alley was executed in 2006 and conveniently for the state of Tennessee, he is the only person who can file a petition for a post conviction DNA test due to a legal technicality. Instances like this happen all over the country and have given rise to organizations like the well known Innocence Project.
If Ms. Cox’s suspicions are correct and over 10 states introduce and pass legislation this year abolishing the death penalty it is clear this policy’s lifespan is coming to an end, save for a few stalwarts. Capital punishment is currently in use in 29 states but if legislation trends continue we could see the end of it at the state level in less than a decade.
*Three states’ governors have placed moratoriums on the use of the death penalty: Oregon (2011), Pennsylvania (2015), and California (2019). The states remain legal because the laws have not changed.