Death Penalty - Issue Summary

Should NH have the death penalty?

Should NH have the death penalty?

Issue Facts

By: Charles Putnam, Co-Director, Justiceworks, UNH and Barbara Keshen, New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union
This issue has been updated by LFDA editors.

Under New Hampshire’s capital punishment law, the death penalty can be sought in cases involving the murder of police and court officers, judges, murders for hire, and/or murders connected to drug deals, rape, kidnapping and home invasions.

Lethal injection is the primary form of execution. The last execution (by hanging) was carried out in 1939. Michael Addison, convicted in 2008 of killing a Manchester police officer, is the state’s sole death row inmate.

Recent History

HB 1170 - a 2014 bill to repeal the death penalty - passed the House (225-104) but failed in the Senate (12-12). It's primary sponsor was Rep. Robert Cushing (D-Hampton). Gov. Maggie Hassan has said that she opposes capital punishment.

A bill to repeal the death penalty passed the House and Senate in 2000, but was vetoed by Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

Early in 2010, the state legislature created a 22-person committee to review the state's death penalty statute. The purpose of the commission was to consider a variety of public policy issues related to the death penalty, including the cost to execute a criminal versus the cost to sentence them to life in prison without parole.

It’s been determined the state will spend nearly $3 million to prosecute, defend (he was ruled indigent and received a court-appointed lawyer) and sentence Addison. The cost will increase by approximately $400,000 per year while Addison appeals his conviction.

In late November 2010, the commission voted 12-10 in favor of keeping the capital punishment law. The majority ruled:

  • Capital punishment serves several important and legitimate social interests, including instilling confidence in the criminal justice system and acting as a deterrent.
  • The death penalty is consistent with evolving standards of societal decency.
  • As used in New Hampshire, capital punishment is not applied in an arbitrary, unfair, or discriminatory manner.
  • No alternative to the death penalty is sufficient to address legitimate social or penal interests for the narrow categories of capital murder for which the death penalty may be imposed in New Hampshire.
  • While the costs of pursuing the death penalty exceed the expenses in a typical first degree murder case, the death penalty is pursued sparingly in this state and those costs are necessary to provide both a high quality of prosecution and a vigorous defense.

Click here to read the entire report.

The statue was expanded to include murders connected to home invasion in June 2011. The law was spurred by the murder of Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon. 

Gov. Lynch issued the following statement upon signing the law:

"I believe strongly that there are some crimes so heinous that the death penalty is warranted. As a state, we've used our death penalty statute judiciously and cautiously, as is appropriate. But there are some horrific crimes that are not currently covered under our capital murder statute. That is why I today signed legislation to include home invasions in our capital murder statute."

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Pro Issue Opinion by Charles Putnam, for the death penalty:


Punishment must fit the crime:

  • Some murders, like the intentional murder of a rape victim, are so depraved that capital punishment is the only proportional sentence available. The New Hampshire Constitution itself recognizes that punishment must be proportional to the offense (Pt. I, Art. 18). The New Hampshire Supreme Court has recognized that in order for the public to have confidence in the criminal justice system, there must be a belief that the punishment fits the crime.


  • There is a respected body of scholarly evidence that capital punishment helps reduce homicide on a national level and there is good anecdotal evidence that some of the worst offenders, like persons already serving life sentences, consider the availability of the death penalty.  The capital murder statute also protects police and correctional officers. Its repeal would remove an important protection for the men and women who do very important jobs and are expected to expose themselves to dangerous, potentially deadly situations as a normal part of their work, but it would also send an unfortunate message about our state’s willingness to defend the rule of law.

Never had a wrongful murder conviction

  • The opponents of NH’s capital murder statute argue that procedural errors in other states demonstrate that the statute is too erratic to remain on the books. They make this claim despite the fact that, to my knowledge, New Hampshire has one of the narrowest capital murder statutes in the country and never experienced a wrongful murder conviction that was sustained after the first appeal, much less had a death sentence thrown out by a court based on a finding of actual innocence or even a capital murder case where a prosecutor committed a procedural error like wrongly withholding evidence.

Cost not a factor

  • With respect to their cost, it is important to remember that capital murder cases arise infrequently in New Hampshire and are a relatively small proportion of the total resources expended on law enforcement, courts and indigent defense in any given year. It is unfair to add up the total cost of a case or two over many years, because it paints a distorted picture of the relative amount of resources devoted to the few cases that have arisen in New Hampshire. More importantly, there are many things – like providing a robust system of indigent defense – that society undertakes despite the economic cost, because justice requires them to be done.

The views expressed here are the personal opinions of Attorney Putnam and do not represent the views of Justiceworks or the University of New Hampshire.

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Con Issue Opinion By Barbara Keshen, against the death penalty:


Morally wrong:

  • Faith leaders from many denominations have united in their opposition to the death penalty. Many believe the death penalty: does not affirm the sacredness of human life; demeans the value of life, promotes violence, and does not promote spiritual healing and well-being of victims. 

Not a deterrent:

  • The death penalty does not deter crime. A survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association found that 88% of the nation’s top criminologists believe the death penalty is not a deterrent. In a 1995 Hart Research Associates Poll of police chiefs, the chiefs ranked the death penalty as the least effective tool in deterring crime.

Executing innocent people

  • The Criminal Justice System is not infallible, and as long as states impose the death penalty innocent people will be put to death. Since the U.S. reinstituted the death penalty in 1973, 139 wrongly convicted people have been released from death row.


  • The death penalty costs significantly more than a life without parole sentence, in some estimates about 10 times the amount. This is because of the heightened process that the death penalty requires. The average length of time from a sentence of death to an execution is 13 years. During that time the taxpayer is footing the expense of the appeals, both by the state and by the defense, since virtually all inmates on death row are indigent.

Victims' needs

  • The death penalty ignores the real needs of victims. Seeking the death penalty diverts millions of dollars of our scarce resources that could otherwise go into providing critical services to the family of homicide victims.
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Death Penalty Member Posts
Take Action

If you are interested in the death penalty and want to take action here are some choices:

  • If you are new to contacting your government, please visit our page on How to Take Action.
  • Contact one of the organizations listed in Learn More. These groups represent the pro or con positions of issues.
  • Contact a government official as follows:

1. Contact members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives or the New Hampshire Senate.

2. Contact New Hampshire's Attorney General.

3. Give your opinion to Governor Maggie Hassan.

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Learn More/Take Action

Do you think New Hampshire should repeal the death penalty? Whatever your thoughts are, we urge you to make your voice heard. See the "Take Action" section on this page for more information.

Issue Status

HB 1170 - a 2014 bill to repeal the death penalty - passed the House (225-104) but failed in the Senate (12-12).

Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) requested a 2015 bill to repeal the death penalty, but withdrew that request before the start of the 2015 legislative session.


April 11, 2014
Concord Monitor: On revote, Senate panel endorses death penalty repeal measure

March 15, 2014
Seacoast Online: Views are shifting on death penalty repeal
March 14, 2014
Seacoast Online: NH House votes to repeal death penalty
March 13, 2014
Nashua Telegraph: NH House overwhelmingly approved repealing death penalty, measure goes to Senate
March 12, 2014
Seacoast Online: Death penalty repeal passes N.H. House vote
March 9, 2014
Union Leader: Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Vote on death penalty repeal set for Wednesday
March 8, 2014
Concord Monitor: Hassan: I would sign Addison’s death warrant
March 7, 2014
Foster's Daily Democrat: NH court to rule on motion in death penalty case
March 2, 2014
Concord Monitor: Shift in NH on death penalty mirrors national moves toward repeal
February 27, 2014
Union Leader: West Memphis Three' member joins anti-death penalty rally at UNH
February 23, 2014
Concord Monitor: Shaheen talks to students on debt, death penalty and gridlock in Washington
February 20, 2014
Seacoast Online: Gov. Hassan talks guns, gambling, drugs and death penalty
February 13, 2014
Seacoast Online: Death penalty repeal moves forward in NH
WMUR: House committee endorses death penalty repeal
February 12, 2014
Concord Monitor: House committee backs death penalty repeal by large margin
Nashua Telegraph: NH House committee recommends repealing death penalty
WMUR: House committee endorses death penalty repeal
February 9, 2014
Union Leader: State House Dome: House committee to vote on repealing death penalty
January 17, 2014
Concord Monitor: Hearing draws support for repealing New Hampshire death penalty law
Nashua Telegraph: Death penalty debate: Legislators question whether New Hampshire should be in the ‘business of execution’
NHPR: Two former NH AGs back death penalty repeal
Seacoast Online: NH death penalty opponents push repeal effort
Union Leader: Death penalty repeal backers far outnumber foes at House panel hearing
WMUR: Passionate debate held on death penalty repeal
January 12, 2014
Union Leader: Garry Rayno's Statehouse Dome: Diverse group favors death penalty repeal
January 6, 2014
Seacoast Online: Death, taxes face Legislature
December 23, 2013
Seacoast Online: Casino, hep C, death penalty among AP's top NH stories of 2013
November 7, 2013
Union Leader: NH Supreme Court lets Addison murder conviction stand
WMUR: NH Supreme Court upholds Addison conviction
Concord Monitor: NH high court upholds conviction in cop-killing; no final ruling yet on death sentence
Nashua Telegraph: NH Supreme Court upholds death penalty for man who killed Manchester cop
NHPR: NH Supreme Court upholds Addison conviction, will review death penalty
Seacoast Online: Rep. Cushing: Death penalty debate not over
November 6, 2013
Eagle-Tribune: NH high court to rule on death penalty
Foster's Daily Democrat: State Supreme Court to release ruling Wednesday in death penalty case
WMUR: NH Supreme Court to rule on Michael Addison's death penalty case
October 27, 2013
Nashua Telegraph: 2014 may – or may not – be year death penalty is repealed in NH
October 25, 2013
WMUR: NH group announces effort to repeal death penalty
Seacoast Online: State Rep. Cushing: NH can live without capital punishment
Seacoast Online: Father's murder inspired NH legislator's crusade against death penalty
NHPR: Anti-death penalty group launches repeal effort
Nashua Telegraph: Opponents to death penalty unite in Concord in attempt to repeal state law to execute murderers
Foster's: Group renews push to repeal death penalty
October 22, 2013
NHPR: NH group announcing effort to repeal death penalty
October 21, 2013
Foster's Daily Democrat: NH group announcing effort to repeal death penalty
Seacoast Online: Cushing's bill to abolish death penalty in NH to be unveiled 
October 15, 2013
Nashua Telegraph: 1st American released from death row after being exonerated by DNA makes case to abolish death penalty in NH
October 14, 2013
Seacoast Online: First man exonerated from death row by DNA testing speaks at city church
October 12, 2013

Foster's Daily Democrat: Anti-death penalty group says prison ultimate punishment
May 28, 2013
Foster's Daily Democrat: Death penalty opponents to poll NH lawmakers
March 15, 2013

Foster's Daily Democrat: NH death penalty opponents laud Maryland repeal
February 14, 2013
NHPR; State justice officials discuss death penalty
February 13, 2013
Nashua Telegraph: NH death penalty is focus of symposium
November 14, 2012
WMUR: Supreme Court to hear Michael Addison death penalty appeal
February 1, 2012

Union Leader: House panel says no to language change in death penalty statute
October 21, 2011
Concord Monitor: Panel votes to expand death
Union Leader: Death penalty option for all murder cases? 
June 29, 2011
Concord Monitor: Governor signs into law expansion of death penalty
Union Leader: Governor signs bill making home invasions punishable by death penalty
WMUR: Lynch Signs Bill Expanding Death Penalty
June 27, 2011
Foster's Daily Democrat: Lynch has bill to expand NH death penalty
June 9, 2011
Concord Monitor: Death penalty expansion before Lynch

Death Penalty by State

States with
Death Penalty 

States without
the Death Penalty




 New Jersey
 New Mexico*
 New York
 North Dakota
 Rhode Island
 West Virginia
New Hampshire* 

 Washington, D.C.
North Carolina*

South Carolina*

South Dakota*


*inmates on death row
Source: Death Penalty Information Center