Alex Blaze

Death penalty banned in New Mexico

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 20, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Bill Richardson, death penalty, Hillary Rodham Clinton, morality, New Mexico, racism

Bill Richardson just signed a bill into law banning the death penalty in New Mexico. His statement is after the jump.

electric-chair.jpgIt's stupefying that Republicans, for all the huff and puff about judges having too much power and the government being too big, don't have a problem at all with judges deciding who lives and who dies. And establishment Democrats, like Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Al Gore, who for all their words about ending racism, building US human rights credibility, and finding pragmatic solutions for society's problems, have no problem with continuing an immoral and racist institution like the death penalty that ultimately reduces America's human rights credibility worldwide.

A majority of Americans support the death penalty, proving how, underneath it all, we're still a blood-thirsty nation that refuses to deal with the realities of its actions. New Mexico took this step that made it the 15th state to abolish the death penalty. Hopefully other states will follow.

If we want to reduce violent crime, there are plenty of substantive ways to go about it. The death penalty isn't one of them.

But deterrence is far down the list of reasons why the death penalty is so vociferously defended in America. Racism, fear of whatever bogeyman is coming to kill you, vengeance, and a desire for the state to demonstrate its raw power over people are the real culprits here. So kudos to the 15 states who have overcome their lizard brains and abolished it so far.

Today marks the end of a long, personal journey for me and the issue of the death penalty.
Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment - in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that.

But six years ago, when I took office as Governor of the State of New Mexico, I started to challenge my own thinking on the death penalty.

The issue became more real to me because I knew the day would come when one of two things might happen: I would either have to take action on legislation to repeal the death penalty, or more daunting, I might have to sign someone's death warrant.

I'll be honest. The prospect of either decision was extremely troubling. But I was elected by the people of New Mexico to make just this type of decision.

So, like many of the supporters who took the time to meet with me this week, I have believed the death penalty can serve as a deterrent to some who might consider murdering a law enforcement officer, a corrections officer, a witness to a crime or kidnapping and murdering a child. However, people continue to commit terrible crimes even in the face of the death penalty and responsible people on both sides of the debate disagree - strongly - on this issue.

But what we cannot disagree on is the finality of this ultimate punishment. Once a conclusive decision has been made and executed, it cannot be reversed. And it is in consideration of this, that I have made my decision.

I have decided to sign legislation that repeals the death penalty in the state of New Mexico.

Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime. If the State is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong.

But the reality is the system is not perfect - far from it. The system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country.

Even with advances in DNA and other forensic evidence technologies, we can't be 100-percent sure that only the truly guilty are convicted of capital crimes. Evidence, including DNA evidence, can be manipulated. Prosecutors can still abuse their powers. We cannot ensure competent defense counsel for all defendants. The sad truth is the wrong person can still be convicted in this day and age, and in cases where that conviction carries with it the ultimate sanction, we must have ultimate confidence - I would say certitude - that the system is without flaw or prejudice. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably not the case.

And it bothers me greatly that minorities are overrepresented in the prison population and on death row.

I have to say that all of the law enforcement officers, and especially the parents and spouses of murder victims, made compelling arguments to keep the death penalty. I respect their opinions and have taken their experiences to heart -- which is why I struggled - even today - before making my final decision.

Yes, the death penalty is a tool for law enforcement. But it's not the only tool. For some would-be criminals, the death penalty may be a deterrent. But it's not, and never will be, for many, many others.

While today's focus will be on the repeal of the death penalty, I want to make clear that this bill I'm signing actually makes New Mexico safer. With my signature, we now have the option of sentencing the worst criminals to life in prison without the possibility of parole. They will never get out of prison.

Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe.

The bill I am signing today, which was courageously carried for so many years by Representative Gail Chasey, replaces the death penalty with true life without the possibility of parole - a sentence that ensures violent criminals are locked away from society forever, yet can be undone if an innocent person is wrongfully convicted. More than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years in this country, including four New Mexicans - a fact I cannot ignore.

From an international human rights perspective, there is no reason the United States should be behind the rest of the world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to support and use the death penalty are also the most repressive nations in the world. That's not something to be proud of.

In a society which values individual life and liberty above all else, where justice and not vengeance is the singular guiding principle of our system of criminal law, the potential for wrongful conviction and, God forbid, execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings. That is why I'm signing this bill into law.

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Yay New Mexico YAY!

Now if they'd just go back and pass that damn civil unions bill they rejected...

Here's the part I don't like:

"With my signature, we now have the option of sentencing the worst criminals to life in prison without the possibility of parole. They will never get out of prison."

This is no better than what you correctly identify as blood thirst. This kind of caveat gives people the smug idea that they're somehow less cruel while allowing them to "lock them up and throw away the key." I'm absolutely against the death penalty, but I'm also against this model of perennial punishment. Of course, the gay community, with its frenzy for hate crimes legislation, is doubtless enthusiastic about thi: Yay, we support repealing the death penalty; we're such faaaaabulous enlightened gays. Now, yay, let's devise methods of endless imprisonment.

I think life in prison with no possibility of parole is the same as torture.

p.s I should also add, having looked at Sam R's comment, that my use of "Yay" was not meant as a parody of Sam's note. I was using that to refer to the general attitude of people towards the issue of death penalty/lifetime imprisonment.

I didn't like the statement much either. It seems like the only reason he opposes the death penalty is because innocent people get it some time. As if guilty people deserve whatever happens to them.

There's way too much virgin/whore complex going on in there.

But at least he signed the thing, which is more than we can say about 35 other states and the federal government.

Okay - I disagree with this, Alex. The reason to oppose the death penalty foremost for me is that it could be used against innocent people.

There are some crimes that would warrant the death penalty. In general, I oppose it and favor life in prison instead although I must admit my own blood lust occasionally rises for particularly heinous crimes.

But I completely agree with Richardson on his reason to abolish it in New Mexico.

Oh, look, it's that Bil Browning advocating state violence against disadvantaged people now. How the tables have turned.

I just got through reading that other thread. I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by. :)

LOL (waving my finger at you)

My angry head thinks that way. A lock em up and throw away the key mentality is easy to slip into. It is until I think about sitting in a nasty cell for the rest of my life. I believe in redemption, which life with no parole pretty much rules out.

Is there such a thing as a person who is beyond redemption? I don't like to think so. Is there an occasion where someone needs to be separated from society for the rest of his or her life?

Vince in LA | March 22, 2009 3:17 PM

I'm in favor of the death penalty, or at least "life in prison without parole" for certain cases.
What about serial killers, who admit to their crimes and don't show any remorse? Do we want them back in society, to kill more innocent people - like your wife or husband or mother or child or YOU?
What about killers like Harlow Cuadra and his friend, who allegedly took a man's life because he wouldn't let them make a sex movie? Do we have such a casual disregard for the value of that man's life that we think it's okay to let the killers go? Yes, I know some people will say that you can't bring him back and that we can't right a wrong with another wrong. But perhaps someone else in Harlow Cuadra's situation will think twice about taking someone's life over money. Sometimes, when people don't have the good sense to know right from wrong, we, as a society, have to teach them by enforcing consequences like imprisonment.

On a separate topic, I don't understand why your original post implies that those in favor of the death penalty are racist. Yes, most of the criminals on death row are minorities, but isn't that because most of the perpetrators of capital crimes are minorities? Are you saying that fewer white people who are convicted of capital crimes are sentenced to the death penalty? If so, perhaps it's not the death penalty that needs to change - we need to change the criminal justice system that applies punishments unfairly.

As far as the "like me" part goes, I informed my family long ago that if I were murdered, I opposed the idea of my killer facing a death sentence on my account. If someone were to murder my Mom I'd be furious beyond measure and for that reason alone I would not want my private anger meted out as if it were an act of public justice.

On your second point: death penalty supporters being racists...

I don't believe that all capital punishment supporters are out and out racists. However, whites are less likely to receive the death penalty than member of other groups. White juries are more apt to give a white defendant the benefit of the doubt at sentencing. When it comes to persons of color (i don't like that term but it avoids the way more problematic "non-white") the death penalty deck is stacked against them in ways that are often obscure. Because of this it is considered by many a racist institution.

Capital Punishment is a system so corrupt that it is beyond repair or reform. Better to abolish it and join the civilized world.

VIVA DEATH PENALTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!