Should NH have the death penalty?
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.
A bill to repeal the death penalty passed the House and Senate in 2000, but was vetoed by Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Another attempt to repeal was made in 2009, but the bill failed in the Senate.
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.
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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."
Rep. Robert Cushing (D-Hampton) is sponsoring HB 1170, a 2014 bill to repeal the death penalty. That bill passed the House and now heads to the Senate. Gov. Maggie Hassan has said that she opposes capital punishment.
HB 1170 would have no effect on the death sentence of Michael Addison, the only inmate in New Hampshire on death row.