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May 5, 2009

Last Minute Senate Rewrite Jeopardizes Colorado Death Penalty Repeal

by Stephen Littau

Only 2 weeks ago the Colorado House passed H.B. 1274, a bill which would repeal the death penalty and use the savings to solve homicide cold cases, by a single vote. Foes of the bill in the Senate stripped out the death penalty repeal provisions and added an alternative source of funding to satisfy those who support additional cold case spending: a $2.50 surcharge on individuals convicted of a crime. According to The Denver Post, the rewrite happened a full 15 minutes before the Senate was scheduled to vote and with only a few days left in the current legislative session.

The Denver Post article goes on to explain how the rewrite puts the death penalty repeal in doubt:

Sponsor Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, blamed the amendment on some colleagues’ anxieties over the controversial topic of repealing the death penalty and said the maneuver leaves little time to work out compromises and no time for public hearings or fiscal analysis of the new draft.

“Some people are looking for ways to avoid voting on the core issue,” Carroll said. “This is a totally different bill that’s not had a public hearing. It’s gamesmanship that makes a mess of public policy.”

Carroll had the backing of a broad coalition of groups — including the families of victims of unsolved murders, whose painful stories helped push the idea that ending the death penalty could be used as a funding source for cold-case investigations.

With their needs potentially met, however, the remaining death-penalty foes in the coalition could lose one of their most poignant and persuasive voices.

I think Sen. Carroll is mostly right. Her colleagues in the Senate are probably thinking more about the 2010 election than any principle regarding the death penalty. With the rewritten provisions to fund the cold case unit and taking the death penalty off the table, her friends in the Senate can avoid making a controversial vote and not have to worry about angering voters.

I’m sure that Gov. Bill Ritter (D) who is also up for re-election in 2010 is most relieved of all about these developments. So far, Gov. Ritter has managed to remain on the fence on the issue with his finger firmly in the air to determine which way the political winds are blowing. Perhaps the only clue as to where he stands – when Ritter was the Denver D.A. he unsuccessfully pursued the death penalty in 7 cases.

Perhaps the “limited resources” and economic arguments was not the best strategy to pursue after all. While these are, in my view, persuasive arguments they should be secondary considerations to the real moral and legal question: should the state have the right to kill? This is the question that far too many politicians do not have the courage to answer.

The article continues:

Carroll said there is too great a risk of wrongful conviction to chance an irreversible penalty such as death.

“How many colleagues do we have in the Senate who believe the state or the government is infallible?” she asked.

As I have written on many occasions, infallible the government is not. This is especially true for our broken criminal justice system.

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1 Comment

  1. [...] penalty and use the savings to fund cold case homicide investigations by a single vote*. Though the Senate stripped out the death penalty provision just 15 minutes before the scheduled vote on Monday, the conference committee decided to put the death penalty back on the table to force each Senator [...]

    Pingback by The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » Colorado Senate Defeats Death Penalty Repeal by 1 Vote — May 7, 2009 @ 11:22 am

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