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Death Penalty Legislation

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What a difference a year makes. There are three news stories about death penalty legislation in my Google Alerts email this morning, and all three are about state legislatures considering expanding their death penalty laws. They are noted after the jump.

So what's going on here? Has public opinion on the death penalty shifted dramatically from last year, when repeals and contractions were on the table, to this year, when expansion is on the table in multiple states? No. Polls consistently report that support has been steady. The difference is that political tides have changed for unrelated reasons, producing a shift in which legislators feel confident of reelection and which feel uneasy.

Shira Schoenberg reports for the Concord Monitor,  "The [New Hampshire] Senate yesterday voted 14-10 to ask a death penalty commission to look at applying capital punishment to murders that take place during home invasions."

Julie Bykowicz reports in the Baltimore Sun that lawmakers are considering amending last year's "
hastily crafted compromise plan" to expand the kinds of cases that can be capital in Maryland.

The AP reports from Richmond that "Virginia lawmakers have approved bills that will expand the death penalty...."

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Of course, in Virginia, the expansion is not as much as we would have hoped.

Expanding death penalty laws does not expand the death penalty. Call me cynical, but I take no comfort at all in politicians’ meaningless death penalty sops to public opinion solely to get reelected. Death penalty laws, often containing “poison pills,” have been enacted repeatedly by frauds who know full well that the state and federal courts would never permit them to be enforced. Many states, including New York and New Jersey, have had such laws that were never carried out. In 1994, Congress purported to enact a death penalty for 60 offenses, including the murders of meat, poultry and egg inspectors. There have been just three executions under this law. Any legislatures seeking to enact serious death penalty statute should, at a minimum, just copy the Texas law word for word.

Politicians and judges have no scruples about fooling and defying the public. Unless and until supporters of the death penalty for convicted murderers make a well-organized, well-funded, concerted and sustained effort to educate the public on the dishonesty and arrogance of judges in rendering capital punishment all but meaningless, enactment of death penalty statutes should never be a source of comfort. What has been done is shocking and would horrify ordinary people if only they were informed about it.

Finally, it is both shocking and ludicrous that, with sustained and substantial public support for capital punishment, it has been so successfully undermined in the name of “compassion” for criminals by so-called “abolitionists” who shed no tears over the victims of that purported compassion. The latest tragic illustrations are Chelsea King and Amber DuBois who paid the price of kindness to vicious criminals. Can it be denied that these young girls were the victims of public policy sought by criminals’ advocates who object to convicted murderers being put to death by the state but have no problem when the state causes the law-abiding to be murdered?

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