No matter where you are, capital punishment is sure to trigger debate. On Monday, Colorado outlawed the death penalty, becoming the 22nd state to do so. The decision has been met with wildly different reactions, with some praising the move while others see it as a forfeiture of justice.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed the bill in question, SB20-100, which repealed the death penalty for offenses charged on or after July 1, 2020. In addition, Polis commuted the death sentences of three people: Robert Ray, Sir Mario Owens, and Nathan Dunlap. Each of them will continue to remain in prison without the possibility of parole.
In a statement, Polis noted that this situation did not fall under what is usual for commutations, which "are typically granted to reflect evidence of extraordinary change in the offender."
"Rather, the commutations of these despicable and guilty individuals are consistent with the abolition of the death penalty in the state of Colorado, and consistent with the recognition that the death penalty cannot be, and never has been, administered equitably in the State of Colorado," Polis said.
Colorado state Sen. Julie Gonzales (D) tweeted her support of the bill, writing, "There remains much work to do and I look forward to being part of the efforts to ensure that all 50 states and the federal government end this horrible practice once and for all."
Others are not pleased with Polis's decision, though. Ray, one of the three men now removed from death row, was convicted of arranging the murders of Democratic state Sen. Rhonda Fields's son and his fiancée. Fields tweeted, "In a stroke of a pen Gov. Polis hijacks justice and undermines our criminal justice system."
In a statement, Colorado District Attorney George Brauchler wrote, "The decision to [repeal the death penalty] during a global pandemic ... is not leadership, but weakness and political opportunism."
The pushback regarding the repeal is to be expected. However, Brauchler's assertion that the "only lives spared are those who commit the ultimate acts of evil against us" is questionable. According to The Death Penalty Information Center, more than 165 people sentenced to death in the U.S. have been exonerated.
"It is now clear that innocent defendants will be convicted and sentenced to death with some regularity as long as the death penalty exists," the DPIC wrote. "It is unlikely that the appeals process — which is mainly focused on legal errors and not on factual determinations — will catch all the mistakes."
In addition, you cannot talk about the death penalty without bringing up the racial bias inherent within it. The Equal Justice Initiative referred to the death penalty as the "direct descendant of lynching," noting, "People of color are more likely to be prosecuted for capital murder, sentenced to death, and executed, especially if the victim in the case is white."
"Almost 50 years of data in the modern death penalty era have proven that there is no way to execute people in a way that is not racially biased, arbitrary, costly, and inhumane," said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the ACLU. "There is no excuse for any government that respects justice, fairness, and human dignity to continue to execute its people."