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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



Victory! Oregon Supreme Court Confirms Governor’s Right to Stop Execution of Death Row Inmate

June 20, 2013 - The Oregon Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion confirming the Governor’s broad constitutional powers to grant reprieves, commutations or pardons for all offenses (excepting acts of treason) and stated that Governor Kitzhaber’s reprieve of Gary Haugen’s death sentence is valid. The ACLU Foundation of Oregon had filed a “friend of the court” brief urging the state Supreme Court to recognize the Governor’s constitutional authority to grant a temporary reprieve of a death sentence.

In November 2011, Governor John Kitzhaber issued just such a reprieve to death row inmate Gary Haugen who had waived his remaining appeals of his death sentence. A death warrant was issued and an execution date was set for Haugen. In stopping the execution, Kitzhaber stated his belief that Oregon’s system of capital punishment is one that is broken and flawed and that as long as he was governor he would not allow this execution to occur. The Supreme Court recognized that the Governor’s action was not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power, but rather part of the Constitutional scheme that permits the chief executive to act in service of the public welfare.


ACLU of Oregon Supports Governor's Action to Stop Executions

November 23, 2011 - The ACLU of Oregon fully supports the decision of Governor John Kitzhaber to stop the planned execution of Gary Haugen for December 6th.