Death Penalty

New Hampshire’s death penalty ended on May 30, 2019. Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill repealing the death penalty passed by the Legislature, but legislators had enough votes to override the veto. 

This does not change the fate of Michael Addison, New Hampshire’s sole death row inmate. The death penalty repeal applies only to cases after the repeal took place. 

History of New Hampshire’s death penalty

Prior to the abolition of capital punishment in the Granite State, the death penalty could be sought in capital murder cases, which must involve: 

  • the murder of police and court officers,
  • murder of judges 
  • murders for hire 
  • murders connected to drug deals, rape, kidnapping and home invasions.

Lethal injection was the primary form of execution. The last execution in New Hampshire (by hanging) was carried out in 1939. 

Read our article on New Hampshire’s former death penalty law written by two experts with opposing viewpoints 

Death penalty on the federal level

Each state can set its own policies for the death penalty, abolishing it entirely or imposing it for certain crimes. However, there is also a federal death penalty which can apply to certain offenses that fall under the federal government's jurisdiction

Such crimes include terrorism offenses, murders committed in relation to major drug felonies, treason, robberies committed in federal jurisdictions, and more. Federal executions are much rarer than state executions.

The most recent attempt in Congress to abolish capital punishment at the federal level was in 2013. 

Is anyone on New Hampshire’s death row?

Michael Addison is the only person on New Hampshire’s death row. While New Hampshire has abolished its death penalty, the change does not apply to Addison’s case. He was convicted of the 2006 killing of police officer Michael Briggs in Manchester. 

Read more about the Michael Addison case

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

"New Hampshire was wrong to abolish the death penalty."

  • The punishment must fit the crime. Some murders, like the intentional murder of a rape victim, are so depraved that capital punishment is the only proportional sentence available. 
  • It serves as a deterrent. Many scholars believe that capital punishment helps reduce homicide on a national level. Death penalty repeal sends an unfortunate message about our state's willingness to defend the rule of law.
  • Cost is not an issue. When it comes to the cost of capital punishment, it is important to remember that capital murder cases arise infrequently in New Hampshire. They take up a relatively small proportion of the total resources expended on law enforcement, courts and indigent defense in any given year. 

Based on points made by Charles Putnam, Co-Director Justiceworks UNH

"Against" Position

By Barbara Keshen

"New Hampshire was right to repeal the death penalty."

  • It is morally wrong. Faith leaders from many denominations have united in their opposition to the death penalty. 
  • The death penalty does not deter crime. A survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association found that 88% of the nation's top criminologists believe the death penalty is not a deterrent. 
  • The Criminal Justice System is not infallible, and as long as states impose the death penalty innocent people will be put to death. Since the U.S. reinstituted the death penalty in 1973, 139 wrongly convicted people have been released from death row.
  • The death penalty costs significantly more than a life without parole sentence, in some estimates about 10 times the amount. This is because of the heightened process that the death penalty requires. 
  • The death penalty ignores the real needs of victims. Seeking the death penalty diverts millions of dollars of our scarce resources that could otherwise go into providing critical services to the family of homicide victims.

Based on points made by Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Veto Overridden

Changes the penalty for any offense eligible for the death penalty to life imprisonment without parole.

Vetoed by Governor

Changes the penalty for any offense eligible for the death penalty to life imprisonment without parole.

Killed in the House

Allows the death penalty for "knowingly causing the death" of someone under age eighteen.

Killed in the House

Expands the death penalty to cover weapons of mass destruction, attacks on voters, attacks on courts, attacks on students, and attacks on other constitutionally protected individuals.

Tabled in the Senate

Suspends imposition of the death penalty in all future prosecutions for capital murder until such time methods exist to ensure the penalty cannot be imposed on an innocent person.

Tabled in the Senate

Repeals the death penalty.

Signed by Governor

Allows the death penalty when murder is committed during a burglary.

Should NH keep the death penalty?

AGAINST
REPRESENTATIVES

Comments

Dudley Sharp
- Houston

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 8:15pm

Rebuttal: Barbara Keshen's Anti Death Penalty Position ("AGAINST" POSITION, Pros and cons, above.)

Morally correct:

For 2000 years, the religious support for the death penalty has been overwhelming, from Popes, Saints, Fathers of the Church, other religious leaders, biblical and theological scholars, with teachings and specific biblical references that the death penalty affirms the sacredness of human life, the value of life and promotes peace and social stability.

It was not until the end of the 1950s that we started to see some mainstream religions turn against the death penalty.

Did the bible, suddenly change in the 1950s? Of course not, but some of the religious became more, socially, liberal.

Is a deterrent:

The death penalty does deter crime.

A survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association found that:

the survey response to question 12 finds that 92% of the criminologists agree that the death penalty may deter some.

It is a rational conclusion. All prospects of a negative outcome/consequence deter the behavior of some. It is a truism.

The survey  responses to question 8 found that 61% (or 46) of the criminologists found some support for the deterrent effects of the death penalty through the empirical, social science studies.

Evidently, Keshen forgot to read the survey.

28 recent studies, since 1999,  inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence. These studies find executions deter from 1-28 murders per execution.

Police chiefs ranked the death penalty as the least effective tool in deterring crime, because capital murder is, by far, the fewest in number of all crimes committed and, because of that, death penalty deterrence will result in the fewest of crimes deterred.

About 90% of police chiefs support the death penalty.

Not executing innocent people

Keshen named not one innocent executed.

The "139 wrongly convicted people released from death row" were not actually innocent.

Possibly, 30 were actually innocent and they were all released. That is a 99.6% accuracy rate in convicting the actually guilty and 100% rate of releasing them ---  very likely the most accurate of all government programs.

Cost:

The various cost studies are incomplete, inaccurate or fraudulent, as detailed.

It appears that responsible management would find the death penalty no more expensive than LWOP.

For example, Virginia has executed 112 murderers since 1976, within an average of 7 years of appeals, prior to execution, a protocol that would, most likely, be a cost savings over LWOP in all jurisdicitions.

Victims' needs

The death penalty recognizes the primary needs of victims - justice - and that the murderer will never, ever, be able to harm anyone, again.

Arnie Alpert
- Concord

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 2:28pm

The death penalty serves no useful public policy purpose. To the contrary, it wastes funds and perpetuates the notion that killing is the best way to prevent killing. Many family members of murder victims say it does nothing to aid in adjusting to a future without their loved ones. And the statistical evidence shows that use of the death penalty is racially biased. For more information and to join the movement for repeal, go to nodeathpenaltynh.org.

Dudley Sharp
- Houston

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 9:54am

The death penalty serves the same public policy purpose as all sanctions - justice, arguably the greatest goal and accomplishment of mankind.

Based upon all incomplete NH cost studies, we have no idea if the death penalty in NH is more expensive than the most expensive LWOP cases.

No one has ever claimed that "killing is the best way to prevent killing", but that the death penalty is the most just sanction for some murderers.

It appears that about 95% of families who lose loved ones to a death penalty eligible murder support the death penalty.

White murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers and are executed at a rate 41% higher than are black death row inmates

Timothy Sweetsir
- Ashland

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 5:42pm

The death penalty is done by lethal injection and for capital crimes only. We only have one inmate on death row, and No one has been executed in the state of New Hampshire since 1939. The defined capital punishment law.
Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a government sanctioned practice whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime. ... Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences.
It is my opinion if you are convicted of capital murder then you should receive capital punishment. Now once receiving that conviction I feel that the execution should be carried out a lot sooner than what has taken place in other states, What is the sense in placing a death sentence on someone if you are going to put them on death row for 30 years. My point is if you are going to convict in a death penalty case then carry out the order.

I do support the death penalty for capital crimes. But also want to protect taxpayers who should not have to support them for 30 years.

Thank you
Tim Sweetsir (R)

Charles Lawson
- Orford

Mon, 06/06/2016 - 4:44pm

It can be a cost saving measure and it might be necessary to look at it in that light rather than as a moral opinion on if a crime is heinous enough to require termination of an individual in response.

Joshua Freeman
- Manchester

Wed, 02/13/2013 - 11:42pm

I support the death penalty, in a manner of speaking, and so do you.

Death is a consequence of life. Premature death, on the other hand, can be a consequence of many things - poor decisions regarding lifestyle and diet, random chance, a simple mistake during a crucial moment, or the violent, unprovoked actions of another. However, like every other aspect of our lives, our death is, most often, the result of our decisions.

If, for instance, you decide to kill somebody else, the chances of you being killed yourself increases dramatically. A friend, relative or lover out for revenge. A concerned stranger intervening in your plans. Self defense. An accident during the chaos and confusion caused by your violent behavior. As we can imagine, there are many ways in which we can be "punished" with death for our actions, with or without a so-called "death penalty".

But what if we really want to kill somebody? Is it ever OK to kill somebody? Is there ever a time where we should be able to kill and be protected from those consequences? Who should decide? Where do we go for moral and ethical standards on this issue? Many people who support the death penalty disagree with the criteria which should be used for its justification. How is that conflict resolved?

The justification for killing somebody is almost always the same - they killed somebody. We are absolutely certain killing people is wrong, which is why we are obligated to create convincing justifications for doing it ourselves. At the very least, our reasons for killing somebody have to be better than the killer's reasons. In fact, if the killer's reasons for killing are reasonable, such as killing in self-defense or the defense of others, then it would be wrong to kill him for punishment or revenge. If, however, the killer is killing to punish or get revenge, we all agree that this behavior is completely immoral and should not be tolerated.

However, since we ourselves want to kill to punish and exact revenge, we need a loophole in our moral standards -- an exception to the rule, and the traditional way of creating exceptions for otherwise universal moral ideals is, of course, the government. We need a blind spot for our conscience.

Pages upon page of laws, inviolable rules, each one ultimately justifying the use of violence against another, and providing very specific exceptions to those rules allowing certain people, with the right paperwork, or having the right title, or wearing the right uniform, to violate them. After all, if we "taxed" people ourselves, this would be theft and evil and wrong, so we need some documentation allowing a specialist to do it legally. If we "arrested" people ourselves, this would be assault and kidnapping and evil and wrong, so we need some documentation allowing a specialist to do it legally. If we "executed" somebody ourselves, this would be murder and evil and wrong, so we, again, need some documentation allowing a specialist to do it, if we are determined to kill people "nice and legal", that is.

It really boils down to trust. How well do you trust the government? How impressed are you with the job it has been doing? How confident are you in their ability to make decisions that you agree with? After all, if we are going give somebody the right to kill us, we should at least be satisfied with the other decisions they make.

That is, of course, the real question nobody is asking: "How do you feel about the government having the legal right to kill you?" That is what people are actually talking about when they use the phrase "death penalty". However, I think most supporters imagine that the state will kill the same people they would like to have killed themselves.

I, personally, have no such delusion.

Dudley Sharp
- Houston

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 10:21am

Joshua:

Killing in self defense, defense of others, in a just war and with executions, all against unjust aggressors, are just and appropriate killings.

We don't execute murderers because the sanction reflects crime. That cannot be the case. Just sanction is because of unjust crime, the guilty murderer being sanctioned for murdering the innocent, whether with the death penalty or LWOP, decided based upon trying to find the most just sanction, not too lenient, not too harsh, based upon the harm of the crime.

A sanction is only a sanction when we take away that which is valued, money with fines, time and labor with community service, freedom with incarceration and life with execution, depending upon the harm done.

Claude Roessiger
- Wolfeboro

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 10:43pm

Without entering into the emotional debate regarding this very emotional issue, I would say that a vote that is taken in consideration of one person (the single person on death row in our state) is poor law. No law should concern one person.

This is where we find ourselves today, an increasingly emotional nation making increasingly emotional decisions regarding a panoply of issues. These are bad law with often ill-considered long term consequences.

More than civics lessons, our students need growing up lessons, to understand what it should mean to be an adult, else we shall see the thoughts and tempers of children in our government.

Claude Roessiger

 

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Issue Status

The death penalty in NH ended on May 30, 2019. Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill that made the change, but legislators in the House and Senate were able to muster enough votes to override the governor's veto.

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