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Bill to repeal death penalty in NH


New Hampshire is the only state in New England that still puts people to death for committing certain types of murders. As the state’s law currently stands, not all murders are eligible for a death sentence.  However, killing a police officer , murder during another crime such as rape, and murder-for-hire are all offenses that can lead to a death sentence.  

This year, a group of 12 legislators from across the aisle are sponsoring HB 455 which would change the punishment for capital murder from the death penalty to life imprisonment.

Last year a bill to eliminate the death penalty passed the Legislature but was then vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu.  Repeal advocates are hopeful that with a Democratic majority in 2019, the Legislature might be able to override any such veto this time around. 

Learn more about the history of the death penalty debate in New Hampshire 

What about New Hampshire’s current death row inmates?

Repealing the death penalty would not change the fate of Michael Addison, who was convicted of murdering Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006 and sentenced to death. Addison is New Hampshire's only death row inmate.   New Hampshire’s last execution was in 1939.  

Fiscal impact

The New Hampshire Department of Justice says that death penalty cases are more expensive to prosecute and investigate than those which do not seek the death penalty.  It provides the example of the Addison case which to date has cost the state $2.5 million to prosecute and will continue for several more years, resulting in more costs.  On the other hand, the cost to prosecute a first- or second-degree murder ranges from $400,00 to $550,000 and is much less for cases that get resolved before going to trial. The department indicates that state expenditures will therefore decrease as a result of a death penalty repeal, but they cannot predict by how much. 

Pros and Cons

Many, including the New Hampshire Council of Churches, believe that the death penalty is morally and spiritually wrong.  Other supporters of repealing the current law agree the system is an imperfect system that could result in inhumane treatment or an innocent person being put to death.  They point to the fact that an astonishing number of prisoners have been exonerated from any wrongdoing, including death row inmates. Additionally, they claim eliminating the death penalty will save the state millions of dollars. 

Rep. Renny Cushing (D), a sponsor of last year’s and this year’s bill, said, “People have come to realize that the death penalty is just a failed public policy ….  It's expensive. Mistakes are made.”

Opponents of a repeal point to the fact that New Hampshire’s death penalty is very narrow and rarely used, but argue that it has served as a deterrent for years. They also hold that for those guilty of capital murder, the punishment should fit the crime. Many also believe that the victims’ families deserve restitution.

Speaking to his veto of last year’s bill, Governor Chris Sununu said, “I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community, and advocates for justice in opposing a repeal of the death penalty.” 

Should New Hampshire repeal its death penalty?

Discussion held on Citizens Count website and Facebook page January 15, 2019

324 citizens responded 236 citizens were opposed to repealing the death penalty56 citizens were in favor of repealing the death penalty 32 citizens commented on related questions or issues
What Participants Said

No: 236 people were opposed to repealing the death penalty.

  • “Not only should it not be repealed, it should be used more often and actually carried out in a timely manner.” 
  • “Some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty is warranted.” 
  • “I am pro-life and have no problem with the death penalty for heinous (and proven) criminal behavior. They aren't in conflict because one is to protect the life of the innocent, while the other is to punish the guilty.”

Yes: 56 people were in favor of repealing the death penalty.

  • “Death penalty is more expensive than life in prison because of the processes of mandatory appeals. In many cases it becomes life in prison, and the inmate dies before they are executed. This process does not give victim’s families closure, as they are dragged through the appeals process for decades. Shut it down and save money.” 
  • “The state cannot be trusted with this responsibility, as has been proven by the list of wrongfully executed people, and it's more expensive than lifetime imprisonment, making it both morally wrong and pragmatically wrong.” 
  • “It's not a deterrent; it's too expensive and mistakes can't be corrected.”

Other: 32 people commented on related questions and issues instead.
These included:

  • Death penalty is rarely used: “When was the last person put to death in NH? 1938?” 
  • It’s all politics: “It would be a cold day in hell for NH to ever use it anyway… NH keeps it on the books to keep the Republicans happy, and they refuse to enforce it to keep the Democrats happier. That’s what you call a ‘Swing State’.” 
  • Some states perform more executions: “It may be a law but they don't use it. At least Texas does!”

*Editor selection of actual participant quotes.

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