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Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

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In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Idaho County commissioners take stand against death penalty

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Blaine is 1st county to pull out of state defense fund

The Blaine County commissioners took a local stance against the death penalty Tuesday, resolving to withdraw from Idaho's Capital Crimes Defense Fund in the hope of stymying county prosecutors from pursuing execution in capital cases.

Created by the Legislature in 1998, the fund covers costs of lengthy, expensive trials in which the death penalty is sought. All 44 counties in Idaho currently participate.

That may soon change, after Commissioner Larry Schoen surprised his colleagues by objecting to a joint powers agreement that would have recommitted Blaine County to the program.

"I have come to a decision as a commissioner, and as an individual, that I don't think capital punishment is appropriate anymore in the United States given the imperfections in our judicial system," Schoen said. "If our nonparticipation hamstrings the prosecuting attorney in pursuing the death penalty, I'm OK with that.

"This is a way for our county to say we don't support the death penalty, and that we don't support the prosecutor seeking it in Blaine County."

It wouldn't have cost the county anything to stay in the program. Last year, the fund did not seek any money from Blaine County.

But withdrawing gives a county government the rare opportunity to weigh in on a state issue: Though the death penalty is legal in Idaho, it is expensive to impose, and removing the insurance policy on its prosecution would choke funding and make a capital sentence practically impossible to pursue in local cases, Schoen said.

"To me, it's more than a political statement," Commissioner Angenie McCleary said. "This seems like an effective tool to curtail whether the death penalty is pursued in Blaine County."

The death penalty is rarely sought in Idaho, and even more seldom used.

Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted its de-facto moratorium on capital punishment, Idaho has executed 3 people, most recently in 2012. Currently, 8 inmates sit on death row; the most recent was sentenced in 2004.

In Blaine County's most high-profile case, neither the death penalty nor the state funding were available.

Former Bellevue resident Sarah Johnson was 16 - a minor - when she shot her parents in 2003. Johnson was found guilty in 2005, though appeals are still ongoing. The trial cost Blaine County $2 million, according to County Clerk JoLynn Drage. (The county paid for both the defense and prosecution in the case.) While the Capital Crimes Defense Fund can serve as insurance against pricey, protracted court battles, it also opens up access to the State Appellate Public Defender's Office, which dedicates 12 lawyers to cover the post-conviction counsel and costs of indigent defendants guilty of felonies after the first $10,000.

Last fall, Ada County voted to pull out of the fund before realizing how dependent it was on those services: In fiscal 2017, the office covered some 167 appeals, providing work worth $568,000 that otherwise would have fallen to the county, according to a report from State Appellate Public Defender Eric Fredericksen. (Ada also has 2 death-row inmates in appeals, who accounted for roughly another $130,000.)

"We're a state-run office - the state funds us," Fredericksen said. "But, it ends up saving the counties a bunch of money, since they don't have to contract with lawyers to handle these appeals."

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, the Public Defender's Office couldn't say how many such cases it handled in Blaine County, though the number is likely much lower than Ada. But, over 4 separate appeals in the Sarah Johnson case, the office has covered $153,000 in defense costs that would have otherwise fallen to the county, Fredericksen said.

Faced with their own 6-figure bill, Ada's commissioners reversed course in November, re-enlisting with the fund.

Closing the discussion Tuesday, the board instructed Schoen to write a letter serving notice of the county's decision to leave.

"We have the purse-string power to determine where things go," Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said. "That may impact our relationship with other elected officials, but it's our prerogative.

"I'm hoping we can get the rest of the state behind us, though I doubt it. We may stand alone on this."

Source: Idaho Mountain Express, January 3, 2018


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

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