New Hampshire

New Hampshire

Governor Vetoes New Hampshire Death-Penalty Repeal Bill

New Hampshire Governor Christopher Sununu (pictured) has vetoed a bill that would have abolished the state's death penalty. Surrounded by law enforcement officers as he vetoed the bill on June 21, 2018, Sununu said, “[w]hile I very much respect the arguments made by proponents of this bill, I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community and advocates for justice in opposing it. New Hampshire does not take the death penalty lightly and we only use it sparingly.” New Hampshire has only one person on death row, Michael Addison, who was sentenced to death for killing police officer Michael Briggs. No one has been executed in New Hampshire since 1939. The death-penalty repeal bill, which applied only to future cases, passed the state Senate by a 14-10 vote in March, and passed the House by a 223-116 vote in April. It received bipartisan support in both legislative houses. While Sununu invoked the views of crime victims and law enforcement in opposition to repeal, Rep. Renny Cushing, a repeal supporter whose father was murdered, said not all crime victims agree. “Many murder victim family members in our state paid a very painful, harsh price for the right to tell Gov. Sununu that we don't want killing in our name. The reality is that the death penalty does not do the one thing we wish it would do: bring our loved ones back.” When the repeal bill passed, Rep. Richard O’Leary, a former deputy police chief in Manchester, said he voted for the bill because “I don’t believe we have the right under any circumstances, except immediate self-defense, to take a life. Once the criminal has been subdued, arrested, segregated from society and rendered defenseless, I cannot see where the state has any compelling interest in executing him. It’s simply wrong.” This is the third time since 2000 that New Hampshire has come close to abolishing capital punishment. In 2000, Governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed a repeal bill that had passed both houses of the legislature, and in 2014, a bill passed the House and garnered the support of Governor Maggie Hassan, but failed on a tie vote in the Senate. A DPIC study of 29 years of FBI homicide data found no discernible relationship between state murder trends and the presence or absence of the death penalty, and provided evidence that the death penalty has not made police officers or the public safer. The study found that murder rates in general and murders of police officers are consistently higher in states that have the death penalty and that police officers were killed at a rate 1.37 times higher in current death-penalty states than in states that had long abolished capital punishment. All six states in New England have murder rates well below the national average. Five New England states are among the ten safest states in the country for police officers. However, in New Hampshire—the only New England state with the death penalty—officers are killed at a rate higher than the national average.

New Hampshire Legislature Passes Death-Penalty Repeal Bill, But More Votes Needed to Override Threatened Veto

The New Hampshire state legislature has voted to repeal the state’s death penalty, but proponents of the bill currently lack the votes necessary to overcome a threatened gubernatorial veto. On April 26, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 223-116 to pass Senate Bill 593, with 145 Democrats, 77 Republicans, and one Libertarian supporting repeal. The state senate previously approved the measure 14-10 on March 15, with support from eight Democrats and six Republicans. “What you’ve seen this year is an expression of bipartisan support for repeal,” said State Rep. Renny Cushing, a co-sponsor of the bill and a leading anti-death penalty advocate. “New Hampshire is ready to abolish the death penalty.” Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, has said he will veto the bill. In a statement issued in February and repeated after the vote, Sununu said he “stand[s] with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community, and advocates for justice in opposing a repeal of the death penalty.” Characterizing “strengthen[ing] laws for crime victims and their families” as a “top priority” of his administration, Sununu said repeal “sends us in exactly the wrong direction ... There is no doubt that the most heinous crimes warrant the death penalty.” Rep. Richard O’Leary, a former deputy police chief in Manchester, said he voted for the bill because “I don’t believe we have the right under any circumstances, except immediate self-defense, to take a life. Once the criminal has been subdued, arrested, segregated from society and rendered defenseless, I cannot see where the state has any compelling interest in executing him. It’s simply wrong,” he said. Cushing, who has lost both his father and his brother-in-law to murder in unrelated incidents, said the bill’s supporters ‘‘are very close” to getting the votes necessary to override the anticipated veto. ‘‘New Hampshire values civil liberties, it values human rights,” Cushing said. “New Hampshire can live without the death penalty.” New Hampshire has come close to abolishing capital punishment several times. Both houses of the legislature voted to repeal the death penalty in 2000, but Governor Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, vetoed the bill. The state House also passed a repeal bill in 2014, which Gov. Maggie Hassan said she would sign. But the bill failed on a tie vote of 12-12 in the state senate.

New Hampshire Retains Death Penalty on Tie Vote

On April 17, the New Hampshire Senate voted 12-12 on a bill to repeal the death penalty. The Senate then voted to table the bill, meaning it could be brought up for reconsideration later in the legislative session. New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939 and has only 1 person on death row, whose status would not have been affected by the bill. The bill had overwhelmingly passed the House earlier, and Gov. Maggie Hassan indicated she would have signed the bill if it passed the Senate. Senator Bob Odell, one of two Republicans who voted in favor of repeal, had previously supported the death penalty, but said he could not explain an execution to his grandchildren. Some of those who voted to retain the death penalty were concerned that passage might reduce the sentence of the one man on death row, even though the bill stated it would apply only to future cases. In other states where inmates were left on death row after repeal, none have been removed because of the repeal legislation.

EDITORIALS: "New Hampshire Should Abolish Death Penalty"

In advance of a New Hampshire Senate vote expected on April 17, the Boston Globe published an editorial calling on their neighboring state's legislators to support repeal of capital punishment. The editorial highlighted the bipartisan support for abolition in the New Hampshire House, and Gov. Maggie Hassan's pledge to sign the repeal bill if it passes the Senate. Among their reasons for endorsing the measure, the Globe said, "Death-penalty prosecutions are expensive, verdicts often reflect racial bias, and there’s little evidence that executions actually deter violent crime." Moreover, the editorial continued, "[A] state with a libertarian heritage like New Hampshire’s should regard with deep suspicion a punishment that can only make sense if the government has the right suspect 100 percent of the time." In response to the argument that prosecutors need the death penalty as a bargaining tool, the editors said, "[T]hat’s among the weakest of reasons to keep the death penalty, because it could serve to coerce an innocent or less culpable defendant into taking a plea bargain just to avoid the possibility of death." Read the editorial below.

New and Timely Resources from DPIC

DPIC recently published a new page that presents execution data for each state and each year since 1976. This allows users to more easily see execution trends in states over time. We have also recently posted updated state data from "Death Row, USA." As of October 1, 2013, there were 3,088 inmates on death row, continuing the decline in death row population since 2000. As developments surrounding lethal injection continue to emerge, users can find current information on our State-by-State Lethal Injection page. Finally, information on legislative action on capital punishment, such as the upcoming vote on repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire, can be found on our Recent Legislation page.

NEW VOICES: Former New Hampshire Justices Support Death Penalty Repeal

Two former justices of the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently voiced their support for repealing the death penalty. In an op-ed, Joseph Nadeau (l.) and John Broderick (r.) emphasized the death penalty's lack of deterrent effect, saying, "New Hampshire has not executed anyone for three quarters of a century. Yet, it registered the second lowest murder rate in the nation every year of this century." Murder rates were higher in heavy-use death penalty states, they noted. The former justices said the decision to seek the death penalty is often "random" and "easily influenced by public opinion, political pressure and media attention." They justices said the sentence of life without parole is an appropriate alternative, protecting society and punishing the offender. They concluded: "Abolishing the death penalty will not compromise public safety, but it may replace rage with reason, retribution with self-respect, and enrich the character of our people as a whole." Read the op-ed below.

New Hampshire House About to Vote on Death Penalty Repeal

[UPDATE: The repeal bill passed the House 225-104 on March 12. On April 17, the Senate voted 12-12 and then tabled the bill.] The New Hampshire House of Representatives has scheduled a vote on repealing the death penalty for March 12. The bill, HB 1170, would replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole for future offenses. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House Criminal Justice and Public Works Committee in February by a vote of 14-3, including supportive votes from several legislators who had previously opposed repeal. Six other states in the past six years have ended the death penalty. Rep. Renny Cushing, the sponsor of the bill, said "The death penalty does not protect public safety, it does not shield our police officers, it does not meet the needs of many families of murder victims, it is not consistent with the values we hear from our religious leaders...those who commit first-degree murder will spend the rest of their lives in prison with no chance for parole." A death penalty repeal bill passed the legislature in 2000, but was vetoed by the governor. The current governor, Maggie Hassan, opposes the death penalty. New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939 and has only one person on death row. 

NEW VOICES: Key New Hampshire Legislators Change Views, Voting for Death Penalty Repeal

As a key New Hampshire committee voted overwhelmingly (14-3) to repeal the death penalty, a number of legislators explained why they had changed their minds on this issue. Criminal Justice Committee Chair Laura Pantelakos (pictured) said racial inequities in the system led her to change her vote, citing different outcomes in recent cases for a black and a white defendant. Pantelakos, who has a grandson about to become a police officer, asked, “Why is a police officer’s life more valuable than an engineer’s?” Rep. Dennis Fields said he was swayed by the families of murder victims who testified they did not want another life taken in their names. He added, “I do not want to take another life; I’m not God.” House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, a 30-year veteran in law enforcement, also changed his mind, saying, “I would like to think with age comes wisdom. So today I will be voting for repeal.” He added after the vote, “It really is a barbaric practice and the time is now to put it aside, and I think to give somebody life imprisonment so they can think every day about what they’ve done is more of a punishment than ending their life.” Republican Represenative Robbie Parsons, who voted to expand the death penalty in the past, ultimately found the inequities in the system unacceptable and also voted for repeal. Rep. Renny Cushing, the sponsor of the bill, said, “I view them now as the voice of experience, and how our thinking has changed in New Hampshire and the rest of the country.” The bill will move to the House, where it is given a good chance of passage.

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