Death Penalty

“More often than we want to recognize, some innocent defendants have been convicted and sentenced to death…After 20 years on (the) high court, I have to acknowledge that serious questions are being raised about whether the death penalty is being fairly administered in this country.”
-- Sandra Day O'Connor,
U.S. Supreme Court Justice

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of civil liberties. Innocent people are being sentenced to death. Moreover, capital punishment is often unfairly and unjustly applied.

The ACLU supports a moratorium on the death penalty for the following reasons:

  • Innocent people are being sentenced to death. Since 1973, 122 inmates were found to be innocent and released from death row in 25 states across the country.
  • Almost all people on death row could not afford to hire an attorney. The quality of legal representation is a better predictor of whether or not someone will be sentenced to death than the facts of the crime.
  • Race often plays a role in determining a capital sentence. Nationally, more than 80% of capital cases involve white victims, even though only 50% of murder victims are white.
  • Where a death sentence is sought often determines whether a defendant is sentenced to death more than the circumstances of the crime.

Litigation

ACLU Supports Governor’s Moratorium in Death Penalty Case

December 2012 - The ACLU Foundation of Oregon has filed a friend of the court (amicus) brief with the Oregon Supreme Court urging it to state that a death-row prisoner’s acceptance is not required for the Governor’s reprieve of his death sentence to become effective.

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ACLU Urges Changes to Oregon Death Penalty Procedures

August 2011 – The ACLU of Oregon has urged the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) to make major changes in its procedures for carrying out the death penalty in order to lessen the risk of a botched execution in Oregon.

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Legislation

DEATH PENALTY: Expanding Death Penalty (HB 3211) (2011)

Under Oregon law only those convicted of aggravated murder are eligible for the death penalty. HB 3211 would have expanded the scope of the aggravated murder law to include the murder of a reserve officer.

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DEATH PENALTY: Individuals with Mental Retardation (HB 2668, HB 2669, HB 2670) (2009)

Other than the Reproductive Freedom bills above, no other death penalty legislation was heard this session. Three bills were introduced, HB 2668, HB 2669 and HB 2670, all of which would have created a procedure for considering the issue of whether a defendant who is charged with aggravated murder (eligible for death sentence) is a person with mental retardation. The bills were not heard and died in committee.

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Other

Consistent with the National Trend, Governor Brown Maintains Moratorium on Executions

February 20, 2015 - During her first news conference since taking office as governor, Kate Brown said that Oregon's death penalty system deserves broader discussion and she intends to continue the moratorium on executions that has been in place since 2011.

“There needs to be a broader discussion about fixing the system. Until that discussion I am upholding the moratorium . . . imposed by Gov. Kitzhaber.”

David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, said Gov. Brown’s announcement represents a common sense approach to a difficult and emotional issue. 

“Oregon’s death penalty system is riddled with both practical and constitutional problems,” Fidanque said, “not the least of which is that our state’s method of execution – lethal injection – has led to botched executions elsewhere in the nation and is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless of the outcome of that case, Oregon’s system provides neither dependable outcomes nor justice.”

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ACLU Urges Gov. Kitzhaber to Commute Entire Death Row

February 17, 2015 - With less than 24 hours before Governor John Kitzhaber’s resignation, we call upon the Governor to commute the death sentences of every inmate on Oregon’s death row to life without parole.

Here's the text of the letter we sent to Governor Kitzhaber:

Dear Governor Kitzhaber,

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, and our thousands of members and supporters throughout the state, I implore you to use your constitutional authority as Governor to commute the capital sentences of the thirty-four men and one woman currently on Oregon’s death row to sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

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