"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Sunday, May 31, 2015

UN rights office welcomes Nebraska as latest US state to abolish death penalty

Welcoming Nebraska as the 19th state in the United States to abolish the death penalty, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today urged the Federal Government to engage with those states retaining the policy towards achieving a nationwide moratorium as a 1st step to abolition.

"We welcome the abolition of the death penalty in the state of Nebraska on Wednesday," said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, who added that Nebraska has not executed any inmates since 1997.

States, such as Colorado, Delaware, Montana and Kansas, whose legislative bodies are currently debating the abolition of the death penalty, are encouraged to follow Nebraska's lead, Ms. Shamdasani said.

OHCHR also called on the US Federal Government, at the recommendation of the Human Rights Committee in March 2014, to establish a federal level moratorium on the death penalty, while engaging "retentionist states with a view to achieving a nationwide moratorium," as a 1st step towards abolition.

The number of people executed each year, and the size of the population on death row in the US have progressively declined in the past 10 years. In 2014, the death penalty was carried out only by 7 states, and the number of executions was 35, the lowest since 1994.

Source: UN News Centre, May 29, 2015

Nebraska AG: Death Penalty Repeal is Unconstitutional

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson added a new twist to the state legislatures decision to abolish the death penalty. Peterson said Thursday that it's his opinion that part of the law is unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, the legislature overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto on repealing the death penalty by a 30-19 vote. 30 votes were needed to override his veto.

Now, the attorney general is questioning a part of the bill where it says, "It is the intent of the Legislature that in any criminal proceeding in which the death penalty has been imposed but not carried out prior to the effective date of this act, such penalty shall be changed to life in prison." In a statement Peterson said, "We believe this stated intent is unconstitutional."

He said the state constitution reserves to the Board of Pardons the exclusive power to change final sentences imposed by the courts. He will seek a court decision to definitively resolve the issue of the state's authority to carry out the death sentences previously ordered by Nebraska's courts for the 10 men currently on death row.

Source: WOWT news, May 29, 2015

Capital punishment backers consider options for putting death penalty issue before Nebraska voters

Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers
Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers
Supporters of capital punishment moved immediately after Wednesday's vote to begin exploring how to put the issue of the death penalty before Nebraska voters.

State Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha announced the formation of a group called "Nebraskans for Justice" that will look at gathering signatures for a voter referendum on the repeal law, or a ballot issue to enact a new law permitting capital punishment.

"My phone and email have been jammed the last couple of hours with people who want to help," McCoy said after the vote.

Nebraskans, he said, have already offered to work and donate money to such an effort.

"They want to weigh in on this issue, and I think they're going to get that opportunity," McCoy said.

The repeal of Nebraska's death penalty won't go into effect for 90 days, and supporters of capital punishment have at least 2 or 3 options.

One is a referendum petition.

Under the state constitution, if a group can collect signatures of 10 % of the state's registered voters within 90 days after the end of a legislative session, implementation of the new law is put on hold.

Voters would then decide the fate of the repeal law in a referendum during the next general election in 2016.

About 115,000 signatures would be required to put the repeal law on hold.

That would compare with the 134,899 signatures gathered over about 6 weeks last summer during a well-financed, successful effort to raise the minimum wage in Nebraska.

A 2nd option would be to gather signatures to force a referendum in 2016 without suspending the law. That would require fewer signatures: 5 % of registered voters.

Either referendum option would require the signatures to be collected within 90 days.

Another option, one that would give such a group more time to organize and gather signatures, would be to propose a new state law or constitutional amendment concerning capital punishment.

To get a law change placed on the 2016 general election ballot would require gathering the signatures of 7 % of registered voters. A proposed constitutional amendment would require more signatures, 10 % of registered voters. Either way, those signatures would not be due until July 2016.

McCoy said his group will consider its options in the next couple of weeks.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, the Legislature's leading proponent of repealing the death penalty, chided McCoy for considering such an effort now.

"Anger, disappointment can lead you to say and do things in a way that is impetuous, unrealistic and unwise," Chambers said. "So that's what he's doing now, and it won't go anywhere."

Source: Omaha World-Herald, May 29, 2015

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