Legislature(1993 - 1994)
03/11/1994 01:30 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
1 HOUSE BILL NO. 162 "An Act authorizing capital punishment, classifying murder in the first degree as a capital felony, and establishing sentencing procedures for capital felonies; authorizing an advisory vote on instituting capital punishment; amending Alaska Rules of Criminal Procedure 32, 32.1, and 32.3 and Alaska Rules of Appellate Procedure 204, 209, 210, and 212; and providing for an effective date." Co-Chair Larson noted that SSHB 162 would be assigned to a subcommittee consisting of Co-Chair MacLean as Chair and Representatives Hanley and Brown. REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS testified in support of SSHB 162. He noted that the advisory vote, section 13, was removed by an amendment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee. (The House Judicary Committee did not incorporate the amendment into a House Judicairy Committee Substitute.) Representative Sanders felt that fiscal impact estimates in fiscal notes submitted for SSHB 162 are too high. Representative Sanders quoted testimony by Mr. Edward McNally, District Attorney, Anchorage to the House Judiciary Committee. "In this state, we rarely ever see a guilty plea to First Degree Murder. That is not true in 38 other states where they have capital punishment. There are killers in this state who should plead guilty to First Degree murder. They confess to the police. It's on video tape. They waived Miranda. The gun is there. There are eye witnesses to the crime. And yet, under current Alaska law, there is simply no incentive to plead guilty to murder and to accept responsibility for their crime. There is nothing the state can offer, nothing we can do. And so they don't plead. We have a trial. And guess what? The trial is very expensive. The process is very traumatic to victims and survivors. And in many cases, in which the evidence is overwhelming, the trial can become little more than a prolonged sentencing proceeding." JOHN LYLE, FAIRBANKS testified via the teleconference network in opposition to SSHB 162. He acknowledged that crime has "gotten out of hand". He stressed that the death penalty has not been proven to be a deterrent. He asserted that the death penalty is disproportionately used against non whites. He maintained that the death penalty contradicts what educators try to teach children, "don't 2 hit, don't hurt." VIRGINA PHILLIPS, SITKA testified via the teleconference network. She read written testimony from Mary Stoltis, Sitka. "The question before you today is what is more cost- effective? Keeping someone out of society for the rest of his/her life, or killing him/her outright by lethal injection? Once again, we are putting monetary value on human life..." (Ms. Soltis' complete written testimony is on file with the House Finance Committee) Ms. Phillips testified that she believes the wisest solution is to give the person the choice of life in prison or the death penalty. DONALD CABANA, EX-WARDEN, STATE OF MISSISSIPPI testified via the teleconference network from Mississippi. He stressed the cost of maintaining a death row facility. He asserted that it is unwise to house death row inmates with general maximum security prisoners. He maintained that the state of Kansas saved $38 million dollars in the first five years after the death penalty was abolished. He observed that it is not cheaper to execute a prisoner. He pointed out that death row prisoners in Mississippi spend an average of 7 to seven and a half years in prison prior to execution. He stressed that it is cheaper to house a prisoner to the average age of 75 or 80 years. He accentuated that there is a risk that innocent individuals will be incarcerated and executed. He referred to the impact on those that run death row facilities. In response to a question by Co-Chair Larson, Mr. Cabana estimated the yearly incarceration cost of Mississippi maximum security facilities at $12.0 to $15.0 thousand dollars per prisoner. MICHAEL KENNY, BISHOP, DIOCESE OF JUNEAU testified in opposition to SSHB 162 on moral, philosophical and personal grounds. He observed the need to take into account moral ramifications. He maintained that there are public misconceptions regarding the death penalty. He asserted that there is no evidence to support that the death penalty deters crime. He alleged that capital punishment contributes to the climate of violence. He reiterated that the death penalty cannot be meted out fairly. He stressed that poor and minorities do not have the same means of defense as wealthier individuals. He acknowledged that concerns about violence are valid. He stressed that legislators must lead the state in taking on measures that are truly effective in fighting crime. 3 Representative Parnell questioned how social justice can be met. Bishop Kenny replied that social justice creates a climate where human rights are valid and respected. He asserted that the death penalty does not contribute to a climate of respected human rights. He clarified that he is not opposed to life in prisonment. RICHARD CURTNER, ATTORNEY, FAIRBANKS testified via the teleconference network in opposition to SSHB 162. He recounted his experience with death penalty litigation in Ohio. He observed that death penalty cases are more costly. He explained that capital cases involve two defense attorneys. He noted that there are typically 50 to 100 pretrial motions. He stressed that any issue that could save someone's life must be explored and litigated. More expert witnesses are employed including a mitigation expert to prepare for possible sentencing. Jury selections are more lengthy as attorneys question personal opinions regarding the death penalty. Trials are more lengthy. Once found guilty, a sentencing trial pursues and can be longer than the primary trial. Mr. Curtner noted that the state of Ohio has had a death penalty for twelve years. There are 127 persons on death row in Ohio. No prisoner has been executed in Ohio. All Ohio cases are in appeal or pending before the United States Supreme Court. He suggested that there would be constitutional challenges to SSHB 162. He maintained that any convictions for capital punishment under SSHB 162 would be be brought before the United States Supreme Court. Representative Martin questioned if the death penalty would be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Mr. Curtner anticipated that the death penalty would not meet the state's requirement for constitutionality based on the fact that it is cruel and unusual punishment. (Tape Change, HFC 94-59, Side 1) KIMBERLY MARTUS, ALASKA NATIVE JUSTICE CENTER, ANCHORAGE testified via the teleconference network in opposition to SSHB 162. She noted that there are many Native groups opposed to SSHB 162. She maintained that the death penalty cannot be evenly applied. She felt that a racial bias would effect judgments. She maintained that the high cost to the state would be balanced on the back of rural Alaska. She suggested that rural Alaska cannot afford to have funding for necessary programs further neglected. Ms. Martus noted the disproportionately high number of Native victims. She observed that Native women are four and 4 a half times as likely to die as the result of a homicide than a non white. She observed that even though Natives constitute a high proportion of victims they are not in favor of the death penalty. Ms. Martus observed that Natives and African Americans represented 80 percent of those executed during territorial times. She stressed the need for long term solutions to address the root of crime. JOHN SHAFFER, SITKA testified via the teleconference network in opposition to SSHB 162. He asserted that the death penalty cannot be applied evenly to minorities. He stressed the need to enhance rehabilitation. CHARLES CAMPBELL, EX-DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, JUNEAU reiterated that the death penalty does not deter crime and is expensive to institute. He maintained that public opinion surveys indicate that, while 80 percent of the public supports a death penalty, their support is based on erroneous information regarding the deterrent quality and cost of capital punishment. He suggested that the public would not favor the death penalty if they could be certain that offenders would be jailed for life. He pointed out that the Miami Herald stated that the average cost of an execution in Florida is $3.2 million dollars. He emphasized that the murder rate has increased in Florida and Texas since these states instituted a death penalty. Mr. Campbell addressed the issue of convictions of innocent persons. He asked if it is reasonable to assume that the 227 persons convicted out of 200,000 murder prosecutions were the most deserving to die, the ones who committed the most heinous, brutal killings. He noted that a disproportionate number of those executed were poor, racial minorities or poorly defended at the time of trial. He added that nine were juveniles; ten were accomplices (not convicted of the actual killing); four were executed after their convictions were upheld by tie votes in the United States Supreme Court. He interjected that a significant number of those convicted were thought to be innocent, by persons who have studied their cases. FRANK SMITH, BARROW testified via the teleconference network in opposition to SSHB 162. He observed that the state of Florida is contemplating the death penalty for 14 year old offenders. He stressed that 90 percent of death row inmates were victims of severe childhood abuse and neglect. He suggested that it would be prudent to spend money on early prevention and to address programs that reduce instances of childhood abuse and neglect. 5 RONNIE ROSENBERG, FAIRBANKS testified via the teleconference network in opposition to SSHB 162. She asserted that the death penalty does not work to deter heinous violent crime. She observed that those that commit violent crimes do not think of the consequences. She expressed concern with the fiscal cost associated with the institution of a death penalty. CHARLES ROHRBACHER, JUNEAU testified in opposition to SSHB 162. He stressed that no criminal justice system can say with a hundred percent certainty that no innocent persons will be executed. He pointed out that all other sanctions allow remedies for wrongful convictions. There is no remedy in the death penalty. He observed that approximately 400 persons convicted of capital crimes between 1930 and 1992 were later shown to be innocent. He emphasized that these were persons who never should have been arrested. He noted that 23 innocent persons are believed to have been executed. He added that 48 death row inmates have been released since 1993. Mr Rohrbacher recounted his personal experience, as a reporter in San Francisco, with a mistaken capital conviction. He noted that the person in question was a young Korean boy convicted of a gang murder. He was poorly represented and spoke limited English. Asian witnesses were not questioned during the trial. The boy was convicted on the testimony of three white tourist. The case was later overturned. WILLIAM FULLER, ESTER testified via the teleconference network in opposition to SSHB 162. He stressed the adverse effects of guards assigned to death row facilities. NANCY SHAW, FEDERAL DEFENDER, DISTRICT OF ALASKA, UNITED STATES FEDERAL GOVERNMENT discussed the cost of defending capital cases. She was able to compare recent cases tried in Alaska. She observed that in a recent case comprising five defendants charged with mail bombing defense costs have totalled $964.0 thousand dollars. She pointed out that the total is incomplete since trials for two of the defendants have not yet occurred and appeals have not been filed. She stressed that every avenue is examined by the defense when the case carries a capital charge. She estimated that this capital trial in Alaska would average $377.5 thousand dollars per defendant. (Tape Change, HFC 94-59, Side 2) In response to a question by Representative Sanders, Ms. Shaw estimated that a trial seeking life imprisonment would cost about half as much as one seeking the death penalty. 6 JENNY BELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AWARE SHELTER testified against SSHB 162. She noted that she is also the Chairperson for Juneau's Minority Community Police Relations Task Force which is comprised of 16 minorities. She observed that there is a high percentage of minorities within the Alaska correctional system. She noted that 48 percent are minorities, 32 percent are Alaska Native. She asserted that minorities will suffer from inequities in the justice system, law enforcement system and during incarceration. She suggested that funding would be better spent on law enforcement and child and sexual abuse programs. She noted that there is a disproportionate number of Native enforcement personnel. Ms. Bell added that the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood are opposed to the death penalty. KAREN HEGYI, ATTORNEY BARROW testified via the teleconference network in opposition to SSHB 162. She emphasized the need to fund programs in rural Alaska. She maintained that programs which address the law enforcement and legal needs of rural Alaska are inadequately funded. She asserted that "young men, women, and families are falling through the cracks and are not getting the help they desperately need." She maintained that the state of Alaska cannot afford the death penalty. Representative Therriault questioned if the appeal process could be abbreviated or accelerated for persons on death row. JOHN SALEMI, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC DEFENDER AGENCY, DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION answered that the appeal process cannot be changed due to mandates placed by the United States Supreme Court. He stressed that defenders must "turn over every stone". He added that if there is a conviction the defender must then try to prove that the death penalty would not be an appropriate sanction for the offender. He observed that the process has been reviewed by the Supreme Court over the past few years. He did not anticipate that the process would be shortened significantly. BRANT MCGEE, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF PUBLIC ADVOCACY, DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION added that state and federal Constitutions guarantee safe guards to due process. He stated that national offenders are now averaging nine years and eight months on death row, from time of conviction to time of execution. He stressed that offenders determined innocent while awaiting execution, would have been executed if appeals had not allowed additional evidence to be accumulated. 7 Representative Sanders queried if capital trials receive better representation. Mr. Salemi assured him that attorneys do the same excellent job that they can in every case. He explained that capital offense trials require additional pretrial and post trial motions and appeals. Factors of mitigation must also be established for sentencing. Mr. McGee observed that a study of homicide cases in Los Angeles, California revealed that capital offense trials average four times as many pretrial motions. He added that jury selection took six times as long. He noted that the survey found that the average homicide case runs approximately 20 trial days or one month. A capital case runs approximately 129.9 days or six and a half months. Representative Brown noted that individuals wishing to testify from Anchorage were unable to testify, due to difficulties with teleconference monitors. HB 162 was HELD in Committee for further discussion.