Last week I wrote a piece about the death penalty, asking Oklahoma voters to vote no on State Question 776.
I was not at all surprised to see it pass by a 2-1 margin on Tuesday.
Former state Senator Connie Johnson, who chaired Say No to 776, pointed out that the measure was expected to pass with 72% of the vote, so the actual results of 66% – 34% pointed to a shift in attitude across the state and echoed a national trend.
Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, minced no words in his comments, saying, “This state question is nothing more than an attempt by our government to shirk responsibility for their repeated incompetent attempts to rehabilitate an inherently broken system of state sponsored killings.”
Nationally, there were two other states dealing with capital punishment: Nebraska, and California, where there were two opposing measures.
Nebraska “repealed the repeal” of the death penalty. In 2015, the state legislature repealed the death penalty. The governor vetoed the bill, but the legislature overturned the veto. Tuesday, voters reinstated the death penalty. The vote wasn’t even close: 61 % to repeal the bill vs. 39 % to retain. Nebraska has 10 men on death row. No word yet on how their sentences are affected. Presumably they were commuted to life in prison after the bill was passed. I could see a valid case being made that reinstatement of their sentences would be cruel and unusual. Stephen Griffith, Executive Director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said “We are disappointed, of course, in the outcome of the vote. But we’re also very grateful that Nebraskans across the political spectrum worked together to call an end to the death penalty.”
In California, Proposition 62 would have repealed the death penalty. It failed 54 % – 46 %, a difference of less than 700,000 votes. Proposition 66 was intended to speed up death penalty cases by pulling initial habeas corpus appeals from the appellate courts to the trial courts. In a case of the fox guarding the henhouse, the initial trial judge would be tasked with deciding if any mistakes had been made in the initial trial. It passed by only 151,496 votes, or just 1.84 %. Had both propositions passed, the one with the most yes votes would have won.
Prop 62 was the second attempt to repeal the death in 4 years. Prop 34 in 2012 failed 52 % – 48 %.
Shari Silberstein, Executive Director of Equal Justice USA, said in a statement Wednesday, “Those losses hit us hard. Those states have chosen a failed, broken policy when they had the chance to move towards a new dawn. The death penalty’s demise is inevitable. We have a long list of evidence why that’s true.”
It is too soon to tell what’s going to come next for any of the three states. Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp has filed a lawsuit to prevent the implementation of Prop 66, saying the measure will “impair the courts’ exercise of discretion, as well as the courts’ ability to act in fairness to the litigants before them.”
I’ve said in the past that there are too many risks associated with killing the wrong person. Wrongful convictions are rampant in our justice system. Until we can fix those, we have no business killing someone in the name of justice.
If we throw the wrong person in prison, we can let them out, throw some money at them, and wish them a good life. That makes us feel better. But if we execute the wrong person, how do we fix that.
It’s time to end the death penalty. Once and for all, this time.