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Senate Bill 1013 limits the types of crimes punishable by death to terrorist acts and murders of children and police officers

It will soon be much harder for Oregon prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Gov. Kate Brown has signed Senate Bill 1013, which limits the types of crimes punishable by death to terrorist acts and murders of children and police officers, among other things.Brown

"Oregon's Legislature made the wise decision to 'close the front door' — most of the way, at least — to death row, reserving death sentences for only the rarest and most heinous murders," Brown said. "This is an important step, in Oregon and nationally, toward one day eliminating the death penalty nationwide."

In a state with a fickle past concerning capital punishment, SB 1013 presented a novel approach. Rather than asking voters to scrub the death penalty from the books, lawmakers decided to use their own authority to limit which offenses are punishable by death.

Aggravated murder, the only capital offense under state law, currently contains a list of 19 factors that could qualify someone for the death penalty. Those include things like paying another person for a murder, killing someone in the course of torturing them, and murdering someone to conceal a crime.

When SB 1013 takes effect in late September, the definition will be more simple. Under the change, terrorist attacks that kill at least two people, premeditated murders of children under age 14, and the premeditated murder of a law enforcement officer would qualify. Convicted murderers who kill another prisoner while incarcerated are also included.

The bill also alters the questions Oregon jurors must answer in order to sentence a defendant to death, removing a query about whether the person is likely to be dangerous in the future. Death penalty opponents argue that question is impossible to answer and could result in Oregon's law being found unconstitutional.


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