Tag Archives: death penalty

Sessions Tells U.S. Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty for Drug Dealers

Citing lesser-known statutes that have never been used before in a criminal prosecution, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo on Wednesday encouraging federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for some drug dealers.

“Congress has passed several statutes that provide the Department [of Justice] with the ability to seek capital punishment for certain drug-related crimes. Among these are statutes that punish certain racketeering activities (18 U.S.C. § 1959); the use of a firearm resulting in death during a drug trafficking crime (18 U.S.C. § 924(j)); murder in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise (21 U.S.C. § 848(e)); and dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs (18 U.S.C. § 3591(b)(1)). I strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use these statutes, when appropriate, to aid in our continuing fight against drug trafficking and the destruction it causes in our nation,” read Sessions’ memo.

According to CNN, President Trump said at a Monday event in Manchester, New Hampshire, “If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty… This is about winning a very, very tough problem and if we don’t get very tough on these dealers, it is not going to happen, folks.”

Citing that drug overdoses had caused over 64,000 deaths in 2016, Sessions’ memo added, “Drug traffickers, transnational criminal organizations, and violent street gangs all contribute substantially to this scourge. To combat this deadly epidemic, federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal. This includes designating an opioid coordinator in every district, fully utilizing the data analysis of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, as well as using criminal and civil remedies available under federal law to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for unlawful practices.”

American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office deputy director Jesselyn McCurdy said in a statement, “Drug trafficking is not an offense for which someone can receive the death penalty. The Supreme Court has repeatedly and consistently rejected the use of the death penalty in cases where there has been no murder by the convicted individual.”

She continued, “This approach is also disturbingly reminiscent of the war on drugs, which set back American drug policy decades, and codified harm to black and brown people — laws we have just begun to reverse. And like the war on drugs — with a focus on extreme punishments instead of the root causes of drug use and no provisions to address racial disparities — the White House’s proposal will almost certainly fail to solve the actual crisis facing the country.”

In the most recent Supreme Court test of whether the death penalty can be constitutionally applied in non-homicide cases, Kennedy v. Louisiana in 2008, the court found that the death penalty could not be applied in child rape cases.

“The court concludes that there is a distinction between intentional first–degree murder, on the one hand, and non–homicide crimes against individuals, even including child rape, on the other. The latter crimes may be devastating in their harm, as here, but in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public, they cannot compare to murder in their severity and irrevocability,” read Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the case.

“Our concern here is limited to crimes against individual persons. We do not address, for example, crimes defining and punishing treason, espionage, terrorism, and drug kingpin activity, which are offenses against the State,” added Justice Kennedy in the majority opinion, suggesting that the Supreme Court has yet to test one way or the other the constitutionality of Sessions’ effort to seek the death penalty in drug trafficking cases.


Conservative Nebraska Abolishes Death Penalty As Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto

On Wednesday, Nebraska’s battle over the death penalty came down to a single vote, with Republican Governor Pete Ricketts first vetoing a death penalty ban on Tuesday before the Nebraska Legislature, with significant support by conservatives, voted 30 to 19 to override his veto and abolish the death penalty in the state. The New York Times notes that Nebraska is the first conservative state to ban the death penalty since South Dakota did so in 1973.

After he had vetoed the bill, Governor Ricketts attempted an aggressive lobbying campaign in an effort to convince state senators who had voted for the ban to change their votes. Of the 32 senators who had voted to send the death penalty ban to Governor Ricketts’ desk, two modified their positions as a result of Ricketts’ lobbying. However, the Nebraska Legislature needed exactly 30 votes to override the veto and hit that benchmark precisely. Senators John Murante and Jerry Johnson were the two legislators who originally voted for the ban but later opted against voting to override Governor Ricketts’ veto.

“Today we are doing something that transcends me, that transcends this Legislature, that transcends this state. We are talking about human dignity,” said death penalty ban sponsor Senator Ernie Chambers.

“My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families. While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue,” read a statement by Governor Ricketts, criticizing the Nebraska Legislature’s veto override.

According to WOWT-TV, Nebraska Department of Corrections officials are not yet sure what will happen with the ten men currently on death row in the state, as the legislation does not overturn their sentences but does prevent the state from carrying out their executions. It has been suggested that their sentences might be converted to life in prison without parole, the harshest sentence allowed now under current Nebraska law.

Senator Ernie Chambers said, “I wish that I could say that it was my brilliance that brought us to this point, but this would not be true, and we all know it. Had not the conservative faction decided it was time for a change, there’s no way that what is happening today would be happening today.” Nebraska’s death penalty ban was supported by a faction of 14 conservatives who rebelled against Governor Ricketts, citing religious and fiscal reasons for opposing capital punishment.

The Christian Science Monitor pointed out the fact that Senator Beau McCoy has launched the group Nebraskans for Justice in response to the veto override in an attempt to push for a ballot initiative to reinstate the death penalty in Nebraska.

KETV-7 notes that Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty executive director Stacy Anderson said, “The active leadership of conservative republican legislators in supporting death penalty repeal here in Nebraska reflects a similar sea change I’ve noticed across the country. Conservatives like me want to see policies that are fiscally responsible, limit the size and scope of government, and value life. The death penalty fails on all counts. “

Nebraska Legislature Votes Overwhelmingly to Abolish Death Penalty

On Wednesday, Nebraska’s unicameral and technically non-partisan legislature voted 32 to 15 to ban the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole. According to NPR, Republican Governor Pete Ricketts plans to veto the bill. If he does, a veto override vote is expected, possibly by next Tuesday. The New York Times notes that the Nebraska Legislature can override Governor Ricketts’ veto with just 30 votes.

Though 11 inmates currently wait to die on Nebraska’s death row, the state has not carried out an execution since 1997. The bill would not retroactively undo the death sentences previously handed down to those 11 inmates, but would take away the state’s power to carry out their executions.

Senator Ernie Chambers, the bill’s sponsor, told the Omaha World-Herald, “The record should be crystal clear on what it is we are doing. It is historic. We have the opportunity to take one small step for the Legislature, a giant leap for civilization.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, conservative Senator Laura Ebke explained why she voted to abolish the death penalty and said, “The faith that informed my personal views on the question of abortion, which says that life is endowed by God, couldn’t be reconciled in my mind with capital punishment when other means of punishment were available.” Many of Nebraska’s conservative legislators supported abolishing the death penalty on religious grounds.

Republican Senator Colby Coash, who was instrumental in changing some of his conservative colleague’s votes on the issue, described the moment he changed his opinion on the death penalty while attending an execution as a supporter of capital punishment. “There was a side there that thought it was a party, and they had a barbecue, and they had a countdown like it was New Year’s Eve… They had a band. Can you imagine that, colleagues? A band at an execution. And on the other side of the parking lot were people who were quietly praying, trying to be a witness to life, trying to understand how their government could end a life. And I was on the wrong side of that debate that night, and I never forgot it… The death penalty is not justice, it is revenge,” said Senator Coash.

Republican Senator Bill Kintner, a supporter of the death penalty, blamed the vote on a “liberal Legislature” and argued that death penalty opponents are out of touch with Nebraska voters.

The bill’s supporters believe that those senators who voted in favor of abolishing the death penalty will also vote to override Governor Ricketts’ veto. Governor Ricketts says he is lobbying the Legislature in an attempt to stop the veto override.

If Nebraska bans the death penalty, it will be the first red state to do so since 1973 when North Dakota abolished it.

Utah Becomes Only State To Authorize Execution By Firing Squad As Backup Method

On Monday, Republican Governor Gary Herbert made Utah the only state to allow exception by firing squad, when he signed a bill that made it legal, if lethal injection is not available.

The bill states that it “modifies the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure regarding the execution of the death penalty,” by providing that if “substances are not available to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection on the date specified by warrant,” the death penalty “shall be carried out by firing squad.

Reuters reported that this decision comes during a shortage of the drugs used for lethal injections, after several pharmaceutical companies, primarily in Europe, “imposed sales bans about four years ago because they objected to having medications made for other purposes being used in executions.”

State Representative Paul Ray (R), a sponsor of the bill, told the Associated Press that when being executed by firing squad, a prisoner is seated in a chair with a target pinned over his/her heart. He said that the inmate is then shot by five anonymous shooters (chosen from a pool of volunteers, with priority given to the ones from the area in which the crime happened), firing .30-caliber Winchester rifles through slots in a wall that is 25 feet away.

Marty Carpenter, a spokesman for Herbert, released a statement saying that while lethal injection is the preferred method, the state of Utah feels obligated to execute individuals by the date listed on their death warrant.

We regret anyone ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued,” Carpenter said. “However, when a jury makes the decision and a judge signs a death warrant, enforcing that lawful decision is the obligation of the executive branch.

Carpenter also claimed that those who voiced opposition to the bill were “primarily arguing against capital punishment in general.”

State Representative Stephen Handy (R), who is in opposition to the bill, told Reuters that the thought of a firing squad “sends a horrible message from the state of Utah.”

The Washington Post reported that Utah, which currently has no lethal injection drugs, has eight inmates on its death row, and three have selected death by firing squad as their method of execution.

Eric Frein ‘will face justice’: death penalty will be sought

A seven week manhunt ended Thursday night with the capture of Eric Frein, a survivalist, who allegedly killed a Pennsylvania state trooper, and prosecutors for the case say they will seek the death penalty.

Frein, 31, was lead to the Pike County courthouse Friday amidst jeers and heckles from county locals who came out to see the man at the center of the manhunt which began on Sept. 12.

On that date, Frein supposedly used a high-powered rifle to kill Cpl. Bry0n Dickson, 38, and wound Trooper Alex Douglass, 31, outside of the Blooming Grove state police barracks.

State police began to scour the forests in the area in search of Frein after they had found an abandoned vehicle nearby, registered to Frein, with shell casings matching those found at the barracks.  FOX News reports the vehicle also contained camouflage face paint, two empty rifle casings, and various military-style gear.

When searching the forests, police found a journal allegedly belonging to Frein which described the shooting of the two officers.  Police also found campsites supposedly used by Frein and booby trapped pipe bombs in the woods.

US Marshals were used in the manhunt, and it was the Marshals who saw Frein, unarmed, in an overgrown field near an abandoned hangar Thursday.  This led to a sweep of the area, which yielded Frein without incident.

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, gave a statement late Thursday at a press conference after the capture, saying, “He did not just give up because he was tired… He gave up because he was caught.”

Many in the community, including the families of Dickson and Douglass have expressed relief at the capture of Frein.

The charges against Frein are widespread and include, according to USA Today, first-degree murder, homicide of a police officer, and possession of weapons of mass destruction.  He is being held without bail and his preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 12.