Overriding a veto by Governor Chris Sununu, the New Hampshire legislature has repealed the state’s death-penalty statute. With a 16-8 supermajority, the May 30, 2019 vote of the New Hampshire Senate equaled the two-thirds required to override a gubernatorial veto. One week earlier, the state House had voted to override with a 247-123 supermajority. The override vote made New Hampshire the 21st state to abolish capital punishment and the ninth to do so in the last 15 years. Half of all U.S. states, including every northeastern state, now either have a moratorium on executions or have abolished capital punishment. The one person on New Hampshire’s death row, Michael Addison, is not affected by the new law, which applies only to future cases.

Rep. Renny Cushing (D–Hampton), whose father and brother-in-law were murdered in separate incidents, sponsored the bill and lauded the legislature’s action. “I think it’s important the voices of family members who oppose the death penalty were heard, the voices of law enforcement who recognize that the death penalty doesn’t work in terms of public safety, and the voices of the people in the state that know the death penalty is an abhorrent practice were all heard today by the Legislature,” he said. Sen. Bob Giuda (R–Warren), a former FBI agent, called the death penalty a “ghastly” practice that was at odds with his pro-life principles. Voting to override the veto, Giuda said: “I think we’re better than that. I choose to move our state forward to remove the death penalty.”

During the Senate debate on the override, death penalty supporters echoed Governor Sununu’s arguments that the death penalty was necessary to support police. The state’s single death sentence was imposed for the murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, who represents Manchester said that influenced his support for the governor’s veto. “Our law enforcement people see this as a deterrent,” he said. “I believe strongly we have to … support them.” Sen. Sharon Carson (R–Londonderry) invoked the Addison case as grounds to uphold the veto. “If you think you’re passing this today and Mr. Addison is still going to remain on death row, you are confused,” she said. “Mr. Addison’s sentence will be converted to life in prison.”

Statistics show that the death penalty does not have a measurable effect on the rate at which police officers are killed. Legislators who supported repeal also cited other issues such as costs and discrimination among their reasons for overriding the governor’s veto. Sen, Melanie Levesque (D – Nashua) called the death penalty “archaic, costly, discriminatory, and violent. This is time to end it,” she said. Sen. Harold French (R–Franklin) said, he was voting to override the veto “because this vote is about our state and about what kind of state we are all going to be a part of.”

This was the second consecutive year in which the legislature had voted to abolish the death penalty and Governor Sununu had vetoed the attempted repeal. In 2018, the Senate fell two votes short of overriding the veto. The state also came close to abolishing the death penalty in 2014, when a repeal bill failed on a tie vote in the Senate, and in 2000, when Governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed an abolition bill.

(N.H. Abolishes Death Penalty, As Legislature Overturns Governor’s Veto, New Hampshire Public Radio, May 30, 2019; Holly Ramer, New Hampshire repeals death penalty as Senate overrides veto, Associated Press, May 30, 2019; Ethan DeWitt, Senate overrides Sununu ending death penalty in New Hampshire, Concord Monitor, May 30, 2019.) Read the Statement of DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham concerning the New Hampshire override vote. See Recent Legislative Activity and States With and Without the Death Penalty.