A death chamber
Execution chamber in a prison. The two slots in the wall (behind the injection table) are where the guards shoot the prisoner who chooses death by firing squad. (Photo: Tommy Woodard, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

This is a great vic­to­ry for human rights that deserves to be cel­e­brat­ed:

After a sweep­ing two-year review, the state Supreme Court out­lawed cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in Con­necti­cut, say­ing the state’s death penal­ty no longer com­ports with evolved soci­etal val­ues and serves no valid pur­pose as punishment.

The 4–3 deci­sion would remove 11 con­victs from Con­necti­cut’s death row and over­turn the lat­est iter­a­tion of the state’s death penal­ty, a polit­i­cal com­pro­mise effec­tive April 2012 that halt­ed exe­cu­tions going for­ward but allowed death sen­tences to be imposed on the inmates already sentenced.

The major­i­ty deci­sion, writ­ten by Jus­tice Richard N. Palmer, found a host of flaws in the death penal­ty law, which banned “prospec­tive” death sen­tences, those imposed after the effec­tive date of the law. But the major­i­ty wrote that it chose to ana­lyze cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment and impose abo­li­tion from a broad perspective.

Killing peo­ple as a pun­ish­ment for the com­mis­sion of a crime is bar­bar­ic, and we’re glad that death row in Con­necti­cut is being shut down for good.

The Con­necti­cut Supreme Court found that the death penal­ty is uncon­sti­tu­tion­al under the Nut­meg State’s own con­sti­tu­tion, which means there aren’t grounds for an appeal to the Unit­ed States Supreme Court. (It is a gen­er­al­ly held prin­ci­ple of con­sti­tu­tion­al law that state con­sti­tu­tions may pro­vide addi­tion­al rights and lib­er­ties beyond what the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides, but they can­not pro­vide less).

The deci­sion leaves New Hamp­shire as the only state in New Eng­land where the death penal­ty remains in effect. With the excep­tion of Alas­ka and Hawaii, no state west of the Rock­ies has abol­ished the death penal­ty, unless New Mex­i­co is count­ed. We have work to do on that front here in the Pacif­ic Northwest.

Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee has declared a mora­to­ri­um on the death penal­ty (to the con­ster­na­tion of many Repub­li­cans, who want the state to kill its death-row pris­on­ers despite claim­ing to be “pro-life”), but a mora­to­ri­um is not abolition.

There are cur­rent­ly nine inmates on death row in Wash­ing­ton, eleven in Ida­ho, and thir­ty-four in Ore­gon. Neigh­bor­ing Mon­tana only has two.

Across the Unit­ed States, the total num­ber stands at three thou­sand.

Yes, you read that cor­rect­ly: Close to three thou­sand peo­ple have had death sen­tences pro­nounced upon them by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment or a state gov­ern­ment and are wait­ing to be killed. This is the Unit­ed States, the sup­posed bea­con of free­dom, lib­er­ty, and human rights, and we’ve got three thou­sand peo­ple sit­ting in pris­ons who have been con­demned to death! How can we lec­ture oth­er coun­tries about human rights when we don’t prac­tice what we preach ourselves?

It is worth not­ing that Wash­ing­ton and Ida­ho have each had one inno­cent per­son — yes, one inno­cent per­son — exon­er­at­ed and freed from death row after it was proven they did not com­mit the crime for which they were to be killed.

The strug­gle for abo­li­tion must and will con­tin­ue in this country.

If Nebras­ka can abol­ish the death penal­ty, as it recent­ly did, sure­ly we here in Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon (and Ida­ho) can do it too. It won’t be easy, but it is a just and moral cause that we must reded­i­cate our­selves to.

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About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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