In Brief: October 2016

States around the country continue to tinker with the “machinery of death.” Here are a few of the more interesting developments around the country in the past few weeks.

In Florida on Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state’s new death penalty law, revamped in the wake of Hurst v. Florida, is unconstitutional because it doesn’t require a unanimous jury to sentence a defendant to death. The revamped law had increased the number of jurors needed for a death sentence to 10, from the seven previously needed. Executions in Florida, which has 396 people on death row, have been on hold since January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hurst v. Florida that the state’s death penalty law was unconstitutional because it allowed judges, not juries, the final say in whether a defendant was sentenced to death.

In Texas, the state ended a virtual six month moratorium last week when it executed Barney Fuller by lethal injection. It was the longest period of time the state has gone without an execution since 2007. There are 253 inmates on death row.

Also in Texas, on Monday, the Catholic Bishops of Texas called for the abolition of the death penalty, saying it “does great harm” to the common good. Their statement was part of their annual address to Catholics during Respect Life Month, which the Catholic Church observes every October.

In Ohio, the Attorney General’s office announced last week that the state would resume executions in January, after a three-year hiatus. The state plans to release a new lethal drug protocol in the next few weeks. The lull in executions was caused by a lack of available lethal drugs.

In New Mexico, the Democratic-led Senate adjourned from a special session last week without taking up a Republican-sponsored bill that the state House of Representatives had passed a few days earlier that would have reinstated the death penalty. The bill would have allowed the death penalty to be charged in cases involving the murder of a child or police officer. The bill would also have allowed judges to sentence juveniles to life without parole. New Mexico repealed its death penalty in 2009.

In Tennessee, a motion was filed in a Nashville Criminal Court, asking Judge Monte Watkins to find the death penalty unconstitutional based on evidence gathered by the analysis of more than 2,000 first-degree murder cases. The exhaustive review was conducted by a group of attorneys, who say it clearly shows that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily and unfairly, making it unconstitutional. Two examples: 10 out of 14 capital punishment cases in the state over the past 10 years involved African-American defendants; and only 48 of 95 counties in the state have imposed a death sentence. The study is believed to be one of the most comprehensive of its kind ever conducted.

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