Nebraska makes 19
May 27, 2015 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Nebraska is the 19th U.S. state to repeal the death penalty.

Legislative Bill 268, abolishing the death penalty in Nebraska, passed the state legislature last week but was vetoed by Governor Pete Ricketts on Tuesday. The legislature has barely squeezed out a veto override, with a vote of 30-19. This makes Nebraska the 19th state in the U.S. to repeal the death penalty, and the first Republican-controlled state to do so since North Dakota in 1973.

Capital punishment has seen a slow decline in the U.S. in recent years, aided by recent repeals in Maryland (2013), Connecticut (2012), Illinois (2011), and New Mexico (2009). Public opinion, meanwhile, is slowly turning against the death penalty.
posted by duffell (48 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
The death penalty allows prosecutors to get stronger sentences which keep dangerous criminals off our streets.

What the governor is saying is that prosecutors can willfuly and knowingly charge and push for sentences higher than they expect or even want, in order to force the accused into accepting a plea deal to avoid the risk, however small, of being murdered by the State. Just so we're clear.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:27 PM on May 27, 2015 [71 favorites]


bravo, Nebraska.

Welcome to the fold,
-Minnesota
posted by ghostiger at 2:39 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Public opinion, meanwhile, is slowly turning against the death penalty.

This is very good news, and the change is striking:
Sixty percent of Americans say they favor the death penalty, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows, while 37 percent are opposed. That number is down from roughly two-thirds who supported it in polls from 2002-2006, and well below the 80 percent high-water mark for capital punishment in a 1994 survey.
Of course there are margins of error - but a decrease from 80% to 60% in twenty years, while still not enough, makes me think we have a chance of getting rid of it entirely.

I do wonder how much of this is due to an opposition to the death penalty because the death penalty is, no matter how it's implemented, wrong - or because people are becoming more skeptical about our courts. Does anyone have any figures on people's trust in the judicial system? I suspect - but don't know - that the drug war, the growth of private prisons, and our massive incarceration rates have done a lot to undermine people's trust, but I don't have anything to back that up.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:40 PM on May 27, 2015


Procedural questions:
Lawmakers in Nebraska's unicameral Legislature needed 30 votes to override Ricketts' veto. Under state law, all bills go through three votes. The vote last week was 32-15. In the previous rounds, it was 30-16 and 30-13.
Okay, first -- three votes? Why?

Second, what two craven bastards flipped from Yea to Nay?

Third, do we really need to do veto override votes anymore? I could see, back in the day when you couldn't pull a magic box out of your pocket and find out exactly what the Governor thinks of a thing, that maybe people would be all, "Oh, shit, the Governor doesn't like this? Well, I'd better adjust my thinking..." But nowadays, what good reason is there for the system to be "If Bill X gets 50%+1, it goes to the Governor; if Bill X gets 2/3+1, it becomes law."?
posted by Etrigan at 2:40 PM on May 27, 2015


For once in a very, very long while I'm proud of the Nebraska State Legislature. Governor Ricketts, however, can go fuck himself.
posted by Ipsifendus at 2:40 PM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


"... Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the legislation flanked by law enforcement personnel, ...

I've never quite understood the rationale behind cops actively lobbying for any type of public policy. Isn't their job to enforce the laws that we the people authorize them to?
posted by Keith Talent at 2:41 PM on May 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


Wow. I'm actually surprised the GOP wasn't able to flip enough votes to prevent the override.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:42 PM on May 27, 2015


Go, Nebraska!
posted by rtha at 2:43 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do wonder how much of this is due to an opposition to the death penalty because the death penalty is, no matter how it's implemented, wrong - or because people are becoming more skeptical about our courts. Does anyone have any figures on people's trust in the judicial system? I suspect - but don't know - that the drug war, the growth of private prisons, and our massive incarceration rates have done a lot to undermine people's trust, but I don't have anything to back that up.

In 1994, the Innocence Project had barely begun work, and hadn't yet gotten a long string of wrongful capital convictions overturned. Probably not the biggest factor, but certainly a large one.
posted by Etrigan at 2:43 PM on May 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


Oh goody we're back to 1977. Can we now get that sack of crap Thomas off the bench and trade back for Marshall?
posted by Talez at 2:44 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ernie Chambers is a hero. His career would be remarkable in any case, but I'm really glad he got to be back in the Legislature to see this one through.
posted by brennen at 2:46 PM on May 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ernie Chambers is indeed awesome: he's been fighting the good fight, single-handedly at times, for decades now. In return for that, it seems like everyone in Nebraska that's not actually in his district hates him like poison. Local conservatives discussing Nebraska politics hate the guy as much as conservatives at the national level hate Nancy Pelosi, or Hilary Clinton or Obama. It is truly remarkable. I've spoken to him on the phone once this year, and he sounded profoundly weary and pessimistic; I think doing the job that he's done must have extracted a huge toll.
posted by Ipsifendus at 2:54 PM on May 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


In 1994, the Innocence Project had barely begun work, and hadn't yet gotten a long string of wrongful capital convictions overturned. Probably not the biggest factor, but certainly a large one.

On this point, I seem to remember reading some research years ago, which suggested that people tend to be more supportive of the death penalty until it becomes the law, and then gradually become disillusioned with it over time. When it's banned, it goes the other way, with support tending to grow.

Essentially the purported finding was that a significant group of people like the idea of the death penalty, but don't like the reality of it much when implemented.

Sadly, voting systems in the US (and here in the UK) are structured to give as much power as possible to waverers, to the sort of person who quite likes the idea of the state murdering people but isn't capable of thinking through the practical consequences of it doing so.
posted by howfar at 2:55 PM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


What's (Not) The Matter with Nebraska?
I asked one of our readers - the one who first wrote in to let us know what happened - just what the backstory was. Why now? Why this state? How exactly did this happen?
posted by andoatnp at 2:59 PM on May 27, 2015


More on Nebraska and the Death Penalty
But TPM Reader LF (anonymized initials) follows up here with more on the role of the drugs state use but are having an increasingly difficult time obtaining to end condemned prisoners lives ...
posted by andoatnp at 3:01 PM on May 27, 2015


If the governor vetoed it, then I don't think NE gets credit for repealing the death penalty. People still are on death row awaiting execution, right?
posted by hal_c_on at 3:11 PM on May 27, 2015


Huh? The legislature then voted to override the veto, as of this afternoon. In what way should they not "get credit"?
posted by tavella at 3:16 PM on May 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'd so love it if my state legislature wasn't dominated by a bunch of right-wing fuck-wits. Our governor recently put a hold on the death penalty in PA, which has only actually been used three times in the last forty years, but our Republican legislature would never vote to abolish it.
posted by octothorpe at 3:25 PM on May 27, 2015


Good news!
posted by oceanjesse at 3:42 PM on May 27, 2015


Like most who visit this site I am opposed to the death penalty. However, for a convict who kills while in prison, esp. a guard or prison worker, I would allow for the death penalty since without it there is no reason not to kill while doing a life sentence.
posted by Postroad at 3:43 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay, first -- three votes? Why?

Glancing, it looks like the other two are first and second reading. If it were the US House, the vote on first reading would be broadly equivalent to approving the rule for the bill, and second reading would be consideration by the Committee of the Whole.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:50 PM on May 27, 2015


I think I'm sad about this.

I'm not generally a fan of the death penalty, but I'm even more not a fan of the torture that is prison here. I'd actually rather we keep the death penalty if it helps at all in convincing people to look at the rest of our punishment system, and I fear that convincing the states to get rid of the death penalty will reduce the impetus to change the prison system.

I'm not sure I'm right about what the effects will be, though, and I recognize that pragmatically, we may not get more than this, so maybe we should celebrate any little step. It's hard to tell.

(Similarly, I am really not a fan of Orange Is The New Black, as it (well, first season, haven't watched more) seems to whitewash prison to some degree.)
posted by freyley at 4:05 PM on May 27, 2015


I think this has to be the first step. I wish it wasn't the case, but we have a hard enough time convincing the public that prisoners shouldn't be murdered. I don't see much success convincing people to treat them ethically in prison if people don't even see how unethical it is to kill them.
posted by downtohisturtles at 4:10 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd so love it if my state legislature wasn't dominated by a bunch of right-wing fuck-wits.
The thing is, Nebraska actually is dominated by a bunch of right-wing fuck-wits. I still can't quite figure out what happened here, but it's not that Nebraska is a progressive paradise.

It sounds like it partly comes down to money, because it's actually very expensive to execute someone, and to the fact that they can't get their hands on lethal injection drugs. I think that the death penalty might end up being abolished for purely pragmatic reasons.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:13 PM on May 27, 2015


Good job, Nebraska!
posted by Renoroc at 4:26 PM on May 27, 2015


The thing is, Nebraska actually is dominated by a bunch of right-wing fuck-wits.

You beat me to this exact phrase.

There really are good people in elected office, doing their damnedest, but they limit the damage far more often than they score outright victories. The dominant vibe doesn't seem to me nearly as ugly, willfully stupid, and anti-pragmatically regressive as, say, that in Oklahoma or even Kansas, but outside observers could probably be forgiven for not being able to tell all that much difference.
posted by brennen at 4:54 PM on May 27, 2015


I haven't been able to find it anywhere -- what happens to the 10 people currently on Nebraska's death row? Are their sentences automatically commuted to life without the possibility of parole, or do they go into limbo so if capital punishment is somehow reinstated, they're still eligible?
posted by Etrigan at 4:56 PM on May 27, 2015


I am in Nebraska but I haven't been following too closely. I think the Catholic Church did some pretty heavy lobbying.
posted by that's how you get ants at 5:02 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Life, Etrigan. I think it's mentioned in the 'Ernie Chambers is a hero' link in-thread.

Pretty sure they can't have a (now-current) sentence for a punishment that is banned (because that's an absurd result), so it has to be commuted down, and if capital punishment ever got reinstated, since their (future-current) sentence would be just life, the ban on retroactive criminality would apply to prevent them from getting a stronger sentence. Although deciding that for sure would take people a lot more knowledgeable than me.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:10 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lemurrhea: "prosecutors can willfuly and knowingly charge and push for sentences higher than they expect or even want, in order to force the accused into accepting a plea deal"

Just for the record, this was acknowledged at the SCOTUS level in Missouri v. Frye (previously) and somehow didn't get registered as the smack-you-in-the-assedly obvious violation of due process that it is.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:00 PM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


what happens to the 10 people currently on Nebraska's death row?

brennen's link says that the law will retroactively apply to the 11 inmates on death row.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:03 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do wonder how much of this is due to an opposition to the death penalty because the death penalty is, no matter how it's implemented, wrong - or because people are becoming more skeptical about our courts.

My thought is that maybe because crime is at the lowest rate its been in decades, Americans feel safer and concerned less about crime, and therefor, are becoming less willing to support the harshest punishments for criminals.

The Gallup chart showing support for capital punishment over time appears to track with the violent crime rate. More and more Americans became pro-death penalty as '70s-'80s crime wave got worse, but once the crime rate took a sharp downturn in the mid '90s, so has support for capital punishment. Someone who understands statistics should tell me whether I am on to something or should be quiet.
posted by riruro at 7:04 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've just been reading up about Ernie Chambers and found this amusing YouTube clip of him pretending to resign on April 1 of this year. I'm happy about this news for Nebraska but also just happy I got to learn more about him.
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 PM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would allow for the death penalty since without it there is no reason not to kill while doing a life sentence.

Huh?

As long as people in prison aren't constantly subjected to the most awful torture imaginable, there's always more that can be done to punish them. "Torture" per se isn't legal, but it's quite legal for people to be put in solitary confinement, or fed a diet that is only technically edible. I don't condone those practices, but they are certainly available for prison officials who want to dish out punishments beyond life in prison.
posted by shponglespore at 8:31 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


but was vetoed by Governor Pete Ricketts on Tuesday.

So then the death penalty is not repealed? Whats up here?
posted by hal_c_on at 9:40 PM on May 27, 2015


I'd actually rather we keep the death penalty if it helps at all in convincing people to look at the rest of our punishment system,

The over 3000 people on death row are nearly unanimous in their disagreement with you.
posted by JackFlash at 10:11 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is repealed. The legislature voted to override the veto, so the repeal is now law.
posted by azpenguin at 10:13 PM on May 27, 2015


Good for them. Didn't do Massachusetts much good. What is the deal with the Federal death penalty?
posted by umberto at 4:59 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fantastic. The death penalty should be abolished no matter the context.
posted by Poldo at 5:15 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like most who visit this site I am opposed to the death penalty. However, for a convict who kills while in prison, esp. a guard or prison worker, I would allow for the death penalty

Then you're not actually opposed to execution in principle, you're opposed to it in certain circumstances.

So then the death penalty is not repealed? Whats up here?

Did you even read the text of the post? Or TFA? It was vetoed. The state legislature then overturned the veto. This is literally the first and second sentence in the post.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:23 AM on May 28, 2015


I'm weird, but I want the following to be an option:

"You are sentenced to life in prison or death. Your choice. Feel free to change your mind whenever you want."
posted by parliboy at 6:14 AM on May 28, 2015


parliboy, how would you get around the fact that people are railroaded into confessions and plea deals already? It's not hard to see a whole bunch of corrupt prosecutors/cops/etc pushing the (perhaps wrongfully) convicted into selecting death as an option.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:28 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The amazing thing is this happened in the aftermath of an utterly terrifying spree murder by the tremendously upsetting Nikko Jenkins and after the murder of an Omaha police officer just a few days ago. If ever there was a time when even liberal Nebraskans start to wonder if some people aren't better dead, it is this. And the override vote was a real nail-biter, with seemingly every single conservative hemming and hawing about whether they might reverse their vote.

I don't know how I feel about the death penalty in the abstract, but I am absolutely convinced the state isn't competent enough to do it justly and humanely, and I suspect doing so is beyond the ken of humans. So this is a step forward for justice at a time when it seems to be ever moving backwards.
posted by maxsparber at 6:31 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I recently heard a story from the last time the death penalty was debated in the House of Commons (I think it was the last time, but could be wrong; bar the occasional call for reinstatement for killing police, etc, it hasn't been an issue for many decades). A Tory blowhard had just said that he'd be more than happy to be the hangman were the death penalty restored. Edward Heath said in reply - "If you support the death penalty, the question is not whether you'd be prepared to be the executioner. It's whether you'd be prepared to be hanged, knowing you were innocent."

If killing people is the worst crime, the state has no business killing people if there is any alternative - and there is always an alternative if you have someone locked up. Even if it was morally right for the state to kill people through choice, it is an irreversible punishment, and no fallible system should have those. Even if the system was infallible and the death penalty was morally acceptable; it doesn't work as a deterrent, so the only argument is through economic efficiency. Killing people because it saves money is not a good basis on which to run a state.

I think those are good, logical arguments. People find logical arguments more persuasive when they're not frightened, so it could be that the falling crime rate is making such things more acceptable - or it could be that whatever the factors are behind falling crime are also influential in people's approach to violent justice. Perhaps it's connected with the relaxation of attitudes towards cannabis and LGBT equality. Lots of imponderables - but in this wicked world, it's good to remember that progress isn't just still possible, it's still happening.
posted by Devonian at 7:22 AM on May 28, 2015


so the only argument is through economic efficiency

Actually, that's been pretty soundly debunked as an argument as well; capital trials cost more, it costs more to keep someone on Death Row.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:33 AM on May 28, 2015




Thanks for the link, tmotat. There's just... no such thing as an truly airtight case. Confession? People confess falsely all the time. Eyewitnesses? Often wrong. DNA? Labs fuck up. We are mortal and limited and knowing that, we have to struggle to make justice as we can. But we *don't* have to kill people to do that, and we shouldn't.
posted by tavella at 11:31 AM on June 15, 2015


I don't have a whole lot of hope that this sticks. I mean, it works out for the inmates with death sentences when the law was passed, but the death penalty is coming back. There is a campaign to put this on the ballot as a referendum with a lot of capital going to signature-gathering organizations. The governor and every law enforcement agency in the state is loudly advocating for reinstating the death penalty. Right wing radio is behaving as one would predict. While the Unicameral can be deftly guided by Chambers and a few sympathetic representatives, the larger voting public is a different beast.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:01 PM on June 15, 2015


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