I have previously written about the phrase, “evolving standards of decency,” which is used in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence to analyze whether a given practice is cruel and unusual. While the Supreme Court has so far refused to find that capital punishment offends “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” there has been a strong trend away from capital punishment on the state level, as the death penalty is increasingly seen as too fallible and too costly to remain on the books.
Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the fifth state in five years to replace the death penalty (following Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York). Last Thursday, a bill passed Connecticut’s State Senate. It is expected to pass the House, and Governor Daniel P. Malloy has already agreed to sign it.
(The legislation would not affect the sentences of the 11 inmates now on Connecticut’s death row, although it should be noted that the state has executed only one inmate in the last 51 years; Michael Ross was executed in 2005, after he gave up his right to appeal.)
Who’s next? As the New York Times reports, “repeal proposals are also pending in several other states, including Kansas and Kentucky, while advocates in California have gathered enough signatures to put an initiative to throw out the death penalty before voters in November.”
The SAFE California Act would replace California’s multi‑billion dollar death penalty with life imprisonment without parole and require those convicted of murder to work and pay restitution to victim families through the victim compensation fund. It would also set aside $100 million in budget saving for local law enforcement for the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases.
Former San Quentin warden Jeanne Woodford points out that: “Connecticut’s estimated $5 million in annual death penalty costs pale in comparison to California’s $184 million per year. Spending on the death penalty for the entire state of Connecticut comes to about 3% of what we spend in California in one year.” As Woodford says, Californa’s death penalty is a failed system “that is extremely costly, harms public safety and always carries the risk of executing an innocent person. We have over 700 death row prisoners in California. It is the largest and costliest system in the country ‑‑ and the world.”
We, as a nation, are clearing evolving when it comes to the death penalty. There continue to be fewer death sentences imposed and fewer executions carried out each year. There are also fewer states retaining capital punishment.
Who’s next? You can help make it be California by joining the campaign. For more information click here.
Fair and Unbalanced