Oregon Supreme Court upholds governor's death penalty moratorium

[JURIST] The Oregon Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a death row inmate cannot reject a reprieve by the governor. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber [official website] in 2011 issued a temporary reprieve [JURIST report] for death row inmate Gary Haugen, just before his scheduled execution, and called for an end to the state's death penalty [JURIST news archive]. Haugen, who had been convicted of two murders, then tried to seek his own death warrant, arguing that he did not want to live with the uncertainty of the indefinite reprieve. A lower court ruled for Haugen, but the Supreme Court rejected his arguments, finding that the governor's reprieve is valid and that it does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment [text]:

We do not doubt that being on death row, awaiting possible execution, and facing uncertainty as to if, and when, that sentence might be carried out, exacts a toll on people, as at least some members of the Supreme Court have recognized. ... The Court has not concluded, however, that the uncertainty accompanying that time on death row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Moreover, Haugen cites no case that suggests that a reprieve or other act of clemency qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. Thus, we reject Haugen's Eighth Amendment challenge.
Kitzhaber welcomed the ruling [Reuters report] and again called for a review of the state's capital punishment system.

Six US states have repealed the death penalty since 2007, bringing the total to 18. One of the common rationales for this trend is that the costs associated with litigating appeals actually cost the state more than paying for a prisoner's needs for life. Those states that recently joined this trend are Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Illinois [JURIST reports]. On the other hand, 32 states retain its use, according to the Death Penalty Information Center [advocacy website]. California [JURIST report] voters declined to repeal the death penalty on the most recent ballot despite the fact that 47 percent of voters supported the repeal last November.

 

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