New Hampshire

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Legislator to Introduce Repeal Bill

On October 24, New Hampshire state representative Renny Cushing (pictured) will introduce a bill to repeal the state's death penalty. In addition to a bi-partisan group of co-sponsors, Cushing will be joined by Judge Walter Murphy--a former chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court and chair of the New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission; Ray Dodge--a former police chief; Bishop Peter Libasci--of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester; and Nancy Filiault--a murder victim family member. Cushing, whose father was murdered in 1988, is also the Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. In 2000, legislators voted to repeal the death penalty, but then-governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the bill. In 2009, the House also passed a repeal bill. New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939. New Hampshire's current governor, Maggie Hassan, has said she would sign a repeal bill.

The Changing Face of the Death Penalty in American Politics

A recent column in The Economist examined the growing number of governors and other political leaders in the U.S. who are challenging the death penalty. In Arkansas, Governor Mike Beebe (pictured) announced in January that he would sign a death penalty abolition bill if the legislature sent him one. In Maryland, Governor Martin O'Malley has led a push to repeal the death penalty. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said he is reconsidering his support for the death penalty as that state considers its repeal. New Hampshire's new governor, Maggie Hassan, indicated she would sign a repeal bill if it reaches her, after two previous governors vetoed such actions. In Oregon, Governor John Kitzhaber suspended executions for the remainder of his term and asked legislators to review the issue. The Republican governors of Ohio and Kansas also have reservations about the death penalty. Governor John Kasich of Ohio has granted four commutations in capital cases, citing the need for fair trials, and Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas said capital punishment should be reserved for figures like Osama bin Laden. The author in The Economist contrasted these developments with Arkansas' former governor, Bill Clinton, who flew home from campaigning for president in 1992 to oversee an execution.  The article stated, "[T]he death-penalty debate has changed in ways that go beyond day-to-day politics. It is less loud and more sceptical, giving thoughtful governors room to question a policy that causes them anguish—because they think it arbitrary, ineffective and costly, and because they impose it."

Many States to Consider Death Penalty Abolition and Reform in 2013

As legislative sessions begin across the country, legislators in several states have proposed bills to abolish or reform the death penalty in 2013. In Alabama, Sen. Hank Sanders will introduce bills to abolish the death penalty, or alternatively to institute a series of reforms. “I believe the death penalty is not only unproductive but counter-productive,” he said. Texas will also consider a number of death penalty reform bills, including restrictions on certain types of evidence, and the creation of an innocence commission. Colorado Sen. Claire Levy is drafting a bill to abolish the death penalty. "We have increasing concerns about the possibility of executing an innocent person," said Levy. Kentucky Rep. Carl Rollins plans to propose a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley has voiced support for a bill to end the death penalty and direct some of the money saved to murder victims' families. New Hampshire's Gov. Margaret Hassan also supports abolition, and a bill is likely to be introduced in that state. In Oregon, where Gov. John Kitzhaber instituted a moratorium on executions for the remainder of his term, Rep. Mitch Greenlick plans to introduce a bill beginning the process of abolishing the death penalty.

EDITORIAL: "End the Death Penalty in New Hampshire"

A recent editorial in the New York Times called for the end of the death penalty in New Hampshire. The editorial highlighted the case of Michael Addison, who is the only prisoner on the state’s death row. Addison was sentenced to death in 2008 for fatally shooting a police officer. The state Supreme Court recently held hearings for Addison, who is seeking a new trial or sentencing hearing because the original proceedings were unfair. According to the editorial, “The trial was held about 100 yards from the police department where the officer had served and the judge refused to move it to another part of the state. The jury was picked from the community that lined up for miles to show respect for the officer after his memorial service and the judge unduly restricted the defense's challenges for keeping off the jury people with their minds already made up.” The editorial concludes, “The Addison case demonstrates the extreme difficulty of applying the death penalty fairly, especially in a state that gets so little practice. The immorality of the punishment is made worse by its inequitable use. Justice will be much better served there by abolishing the punishment.”  Read full editorial below.

NEW VOICES: Growing Coalition Supports Repeal of New Hampshire Death Penalty

New Hampshire State Representative Renny Cushing (pictured), whose father and brother-in-law were murdered, is one of many members of the state's legislature who supports repeal of the death penalty. "Everyone is moving away from the death penalty. It’s clear New Hampshire isn’t in love with the death penalty. We haven’t executed anyone since 1939," Cushing said. New Hampshire's only death row inmate currently has an appeal before the state Supreme Court. A death penalty abolition bill passed the New Hampshire House in 2009, but was vetoed by the Governor. Governor-elect Maggie Hassan said she opposed expanding the death penalty and is expected to sign a repeal bill if it passes the legislature. Past efforts to end the death penalty in New Hampshire have crossed party lines. Republican Rep. Steve Vaillancourt sponsored a repeal bill in 2000 and has taken preliminary measures to abolish the death penalty this year. "New Hampshire’s a really strong libertarian state. There is a strong element in the state that doesn’t trust the government to collect taxes and plow roads," Cushing said. "And it certainly doesn’t want to give the government the power to kill people."

RESOURCES: Recent Legislative Acitivity on the Death Penalty

DPIC is collecting information on pending legislation related to the death penalty.  For example, at least nine states will consider bills to repeal the death penalty in 2012.  In California, a coalition called Taxpayers for Justice has been collecting signatures to place a death penalty repeal initiative on the ballot in November.  On January 25, the Washington Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a bill to repeal the death penalty. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Debbie Regala, cited high costs as a reason for the bill: “We can keep the public safe with putting people in prison for the rest of their life, as opposed to the costly expense of executing them… It's always important and valuable for us to look at public policy and see if it's actually getting us the results that we want. When you're facing an economic crisis, you add an extra lens." Other states considering repeal bills are Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania. A few states, such as New Hampshire, have blls to expand the death penalty.

Death Penalty Advocate Says Current Law Should Be Abolished

New Hampshire state representative Phil Greazzo, who has proposed a broad expansion of the death penalty, will also offer an alternative bill to abolish the death penalty entirely because it is so unfair.  Rep. Greazzo, a Republican, previously introduced legislation to expand the state's death penalty to include any intentional murder, maintaining the law should protect all people equally.  But he said he would rather have lawmakers do away with the punishment altogether than maintain the status quo.  The current law restricts the death penalty to certain murders, such as killing a law enforcement officer.  Greazzo pointed out the inconsistencies of the current statute saying, “If I hire someone to commit a murder for me, that would bring the death penalty.  If I did it myself, there's no death penalty. So the law is a little bit askew in fairness.”  In proposing both the expansion and repeal bills, Greazzo intended for lawmakers to consider a full range of possibilities for improving the current law.  He said, “Why not just have the argument once?  It's sort of a waste of time to have the conversation for years.”

STUDIES: Eyewitness Identification Comes Under Supreme Court and Scientific Scrutiny

The U.S. Supreme Court recently considered Perry v. New Hampshire, a case questioning the validity of eyewitness testimony when the identification was made under unreliable circumstances.  At the same time, years of scientific study on the accuracy of human memory are pointing to the need for reform in the use of eyewitness evidence in criminal cases.  Barbara Tversky, a psychology professor at Columbia University, whose experiments on memory were reported in the journal Cognitive Psychology, noted, “Memory is weak in eyewitness situations because it’s overloaded.  An event happens so fast, and when the police question you, you probably weren’t concentrating on the details they’re asking about.”  About 75% of DNA-based exonerations have come in cases where eyewitnesses have made mistakes.  Scientists suggest that witness testimony should be viewed more like trace evidence, with the same fragility and vulnerability to contamination.  Strong emotions felt by victims of a crime is one such possible area of contamination. Gary Wells, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, found that the accuracy of lineups improves when the possible suspects are presented to witnesses in sequence, rather than all at once, as in the traditional lineup. The downfall of side-by-side lineups, Dr. Wells said, is that “if the real perpetrator is not in there, there is still someone who looks more like him than the others.” The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently promulgated new rules for dealing with the problems of eyewitness identification.