Okla., Neb., Calif. Voters Say ‘Yes’ to Death Penalty

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By Lance J. Rogers

Nov. 9 — Death penalty supporters in Nebraska, Oklahoma and California are declaring victory after voters in those states approved pro-capital punishment initiatives Nov. 8.

The referendum results buck a nationwide trend that was moving many states in the opposite direction.

Midwest Mandate

Voters in the Cornhusker State have put the death penalty back on the table just 18 months after the Legislature got rid of capital punishment and replaced it with life without parole.

The “ Nebraska Death Penalty Repeal Referendum,” which asked voters to repeal LB 268 and reinstate the death penalty as an option for defendants convicted of first degree murder, won resoundingly with more than 60 percent of the vote. Those numbers closely tracked President-elect Donald Trump’s margin of victory in the state.

Oklahoma voters strengthened that state’s commitment to the death penalty by approving an amendment to the state constitution which declares that capital punishment isn’t cruel and unusual.

The measure also states that all methods of execution are constitutionally allowed, and if an execution method is deemed invalid, “the death sentence shall remain in force until the sentence can be lawfully executed by any valid method.”

The referendum passed with 66 percent of the vote. Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in Oklahoma was 65 percent to 29 percent.

According to statistics compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center, Oklahoma has the highest number of executions per capita in the U.S.

California Keeps Death Penalty

Confronted with a pair of competing initiatives, Californians rejected a proposal to replace all death sentences with life without parole and instead opted to keep capital punishment on the books with several reforms designed to streamline the review process.

California Proposition 62 was rejected by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin. A similar ballot measure, Proposition 34, was defeated in 2012 by a 52 percent to 48 percent vote.

Proposition 66, which narrowly passed with just 50.9 percent of the vote, expressly retains capital punishment and adds a series of reforms designed to streamline the post-conviction appeals process. It imposes tighter filing deadlines, limits successive petitions, requires appointed lawyers in noncapital cases to take death penalty appeals and makes attorneys available for post-conviction matters at the time of sentence.

Although the death penalty is still legal in 31 states, there has been a growing movement to abolish it.

In just the past 10 years, seven states have abolished capital punishment and the governors of Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Pennsylvania have temporarily halted executions in those states. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have outlawed capital punishment,

To contact the reporter on this story: Lance J. Rogers in Washington at LRogers@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

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