Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced that his administration will proceed with implementing the death penalty in 10 cases that have been tried and sentenced before current changes to law on the matter were established. The new law that bans the death penalty will go into action three months from now.
This week, the GOP-controlled Legislature has approved a new law that excludes the death penalty from the legal sentencing options, despite the governor’s veto on this matter.
Because the new death penalty law becomes active in three months time, the fate of 10 prisoners who were already on death row became quite unclear, because it became debatable whether or not they would have their sentences carried out or brought up to date.
The new law states that all the prisoners who had been tried before the death penalty was repealed, and who were put on death row, would have their sentences changed to life imprisonment.
Attorney General Doug Peterson argued that it would be unconstitutional for the state to change the sentence for these 10 prisoners, considering that they have been tried in an American court, in complete accordance with the law at that time. He argued for finalizing the application of these sentences.
However, the main sponsor of the death penalty law, Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers, argues that this measure it is in fact constitutional because it does not actually change the sentence that was given by the American Court of Justice, but actually brings it up to present legal standards.
Since the law eliminates the death penalty as legal punishment, it becomes impossible for it to be enforced. Therefore, the 10 inmates who had been sentenced to death, the harshest punishment at that time, will receive the harshest punishment according to the present law, which is life imprisonment.
This makes the sentence still viable, because the court decided that those 10 people deserved the worst that the legal system had to offer, and this is what they would be getting in the present as well.
The only thing that would change would be exactly the nature of the punishment, but not its rank in the punishment hierarchy. Sen. Chambers suggested that the decision be made by the Department of Correctional Services.
Nevertheless, Gov. Pete Ricketts said that he has no intention whatsoever of cancelling the shipment of lethal drugs that has been made as part of the legal preparation for carrying out the sentence of the 10 death row inmates.
The citizens of Nebraska seem to agree with Gov. Pete Ricketts, as they have formed the group “Nebraskans for Justice” which will focus on gathering the required signatures to challenge the law that repeals death penalty, according to State Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha.
If “Nebraskans for Justice” manage to gather 115,000 signatures from people support their initiative, which would correspond to the required amount of 10% of state registered voters, then they have a right to suspend the death penalty repealing law, according to the state’s referendum legal process.
Image Source: procon.org