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 is the only state in New England with the death penalty, and has not carried out an execution since 1939. It has one prisoner on its death row, Michael Addison, who was sentenced to death for killing police officer Michael Briggs. Officer Briggs’s partner, John Breckenridge, initially supported the death sentence but has come to oppose capital punishment. According to a New Hampshire Department of Corrections spokesperson, the state has no supply of drugs with which to carry out an execution. The state also has no procedures in place for obtaining execution drugs, no protocol for conducting an execution, and no location in which to perform the execution. The legislature has declined to provide funding for a proposed $1.77 million lethal injection chamber.

(Kathy McCormack, New Hampshire lawmakers pass death penalty repeal bill, face gubernatorial veto, Associated Press, April 26, 2018; John DiStasso, NH House votes to repeal death penalty law, but Sununu promises veto, WMUR-TV Manchester, April 26, 2018; Ethan DeWitt, Capital Beat: Repeal aside, New Hampshire not ready for executions, Concord Monitor, April 28, 2018; Max Sullivan, NH bill repealing the death penalty in doubt, Seacoast News, April 28, 2018.) See New Hampshire and Recent Legislative Activity.