Developments in Montana and New Mexico May Lead to Abolition of Death Penalty

Recent developments in Montana and New Mexico may affect the outcome of legislative efforts to abolish the death penalty.  In Montana, the Senate voted 27-23 to end the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole.  It is the second session in a row that such a proposal has cleared the Senate.  New Mexico’s House passed a bill replacing capital punishment with life in prison without parole and the bill is pending in a Senate committee.  Legislatures in both states cited the risk of executing innocent people and the excessive costs of capital punishment as reasons for abolishing the death penalty.  

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said while he would have vetoed such a bill a few years ago, he may sign a repeal bill if it reaches his desk now.  "I'm struggling with my position, but I definitely have softened my view on the death penalty.” He has found the alternative of life in prison without parole “to be a strong punishment” and called the cost of the death penalty “a valid reason in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”

While votes in Montana were mostly along party lines, one crossover vote was that of Republican Senator Roy Brown.  He said that his pro-life views would be at odds with supporting capital punishment.  To the argument made by some that opposing abortion protects innocent life while capital punishment takes the life of a guilty person, Brown responded, "That is pretty simple, pretty concise and easy to understand - but is it always? Is it always a guilty life?" He added. "Yes, mistakes do happen."

(D. Baker, "NM Gov Reconsiders Death Penalty," Associated Press, February 16, 2009; M. Guoras, "Senate endorses death penalty ban," Associate  Press, February 16, 2009).  See Recent Legislative Activity and New Voices.