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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Utah lawmaker wants to speed up death penalty process

Utah House of Representatives
A Utah lawmaker is once again targeting the death penalty.

Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield), well known for bringing the firing squad back to Utah, says inmates sit on death row too long.

He wants them to die quicker.

"If you're sentenced to die, you're going to die for doing that," Ray said.

The Republican plans to look for ways to shorten the process, holding up 2 states -- Virginia and Texas -- as examples.

"Typically, 7 to 10 years is how long somebody's on death row" in those states, Ray said. "We may look at putting in some of the measures that they have to expedite the time on death row."

Utah has 9 inmates on death row. All but 1 have remained there more than 15 years.

Every time Ray touches the death penalty on Utah's Capitol Hill, it ignites a political firestorm. That will be the case this time as well.

"I don't understand his fascination with the death penalty," said Kent Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Hart says Ray's latest effort is contrary to Utah values.

"If that process is shortened, Utah would be joining other states like Virginia and Texas who I don't think value human life like Utah does," Hart said.

Ray says he expects opposition, but he still plans to bring this issue to Capitol Hill on Wednesday in the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. After studying it, Ray hopes to draft a bill later this fall.

Last session the Utah Senate passed a bill that would get rid of the death penalty, but that bill failed in the House.

Source: KUTV news, June 14, 2016


Report: Each death row inmate costs Utah $1.66 million

A new state report finds that each death row inmate in Utah costs $1.66 million more in taxpayer money than one sentenced to life in prison without parole.

State lawmakers weighed the costs of capital punishment Wednesday at a hearing that came after the legislature both brought back the firing squad and seriously considered eliminating death sentences altogether.

Some lawmakers sharply questioned whether the state could really save that much money if they did away with capital punishment, pointing to costs like care for elderly inmates.

Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield sponsored the proposal that brought back the firing squad as a backup execution method, and now wants to streamline the death-penalty appeals process from about 30 years to 15 or less. Critics say that could give defendants short shrift.

Source: Associated Press, June 15, 2007

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