In Brief: November 2016

Capital punishment was at the center of debates in states including Kansas, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama the past few weeks.

In Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of Thomas Arthur Thursday night. The Montgomery Advertiser says the court granted the stay to consider Arthur’s argument that he should be allowed to propose alternative methods of execution that he believes would be more humane than the current lethal injection protocol. His lawyers also argued that Alabama’s death penalty scheme is unconstitutional under Hurst v. Florida, but the court apparently only considered the challenge to the execution method. This is the seventh time Arthur has had his execution stayed.

In Georgia, Steven Frederick Spears is scheduled to be executed on November 16. If the execution goes forward, Georgia will have executed more prisoners this year than Texas. The two states are currently tied with seven executions each. This is the highest number of executions Georgia has carried out since 1976.

In Florida, the Tallahassee Ledger reports that the state’s death penalty “is effectively on hold.” The de facto moratorium stems from January’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hurst v. Florida, which struck down the state’s death penalty scheme allowing judges to sentence a defendant to death based on a simple majority recommendation of the jury. In response, legislators re-wrote the law to require a 10-2 vote by the jury, but the state supreme court then ruled that the jury decision must be unanimous. The court did not say whether the ruling was retroactive, and until the attorney general’s office receives clarification, the death penalty remains in limbo.

In Texas, Catholic bishops called for an end to the death penalty saying, “it does great harm to the common good.” The bishops’ public policy arm, the Texas Catholic Conference, also said it will begin working with the Texas legislature to improve the rights of jurors who sit on death penalty cases. Texas has executed seven people so far this year, down from 13 last year. There is an execution scheduled for December.

In Kansas, a group calling itself Kansans for Justice is campaigning to oust four of the five state supreme court justices who are up for retention this month, including the chief justice. The Wichita Eagle says the group formed after the court vacated the death sentences of two brothers, who were charged with killing five people in 2000. The court upheld three of each man’s four capital convictions, but vacated the death sentence each received for the remaining capital conviction, ruling that their sentencing hearings should have been held separately.

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