Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/27/1996 01:50 PM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
  SPONSOR SUBSTITUTE FOR SENATE BILL NO. 52                                    
       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;  and  providing for  an  effective                 
  Co-chairman Halford directed that SSSB  52 be brought on for                 
  discussion and  referenced CSSSSB  52 (Jud).   He  explained                 
  that the  judiciary version  provides only  for an  advisory                 
  vote on the issue of capital punishment.  The only reason it                 
  was referred to  Finance is  the $2.2 fiscal  note from  the                 
  Division of Elections.                                                       
  CHARLES CAMPBELL first  came forward to  speak to the  bill.                 
  He advised that  he came to  Alaska in  1979 as director  of                 
  corrections and would  be testifying based on  many years of                 
  experience in criminal justice.                                              
  He  voiced  his belief  that  an  advisory  vote on  capital                 
  punishment could initiate  a public  policy with  tremendous                 
  costs in  the future.   Further, an affirmative  majority on                 
  the  advisory  vote  will make  it  extremely  difficult for                 
  legislators to vote  against the death  penalty.  Since  the                 
  death penalty  would not be  good for Alaska,  the committee                 
  would  be  prudent to  set  the  bill aside  until  there is                 
  opportunity for additional research beyond that conducted in                 
  Senate Judiciary.                                                            
  If presented to  the public at this time, Alaska's residents                 
  will  be  voting   on  the  basis   of  "a  great  deal   of                 
  misinformation."   It would  be a disservice  to present the                 
  question to voters under those circumstances.                                
  Mr. Campbell  voiced his belief  that there are  no rational                 
  arguments in favor of the death penalty.  He then referenced                 
  evidence  which he said indicates that  the death penalty in                 
  America "has caused  murders that  might have otherwise  not                 
  been  committed."   Death  penalty states  consistently show                 
  higher murder rates than  states without capital punishment.                 
  Reinstitution of the death penalty has preceded increases in                 
  murder rates.   Canada abolished the death  penalty in 1976,                 
  and the murder rate decreased.   In the past year, the state                 
  of Texas executed three times  more prisoners than any other                 
  state, and the murder rate in Texas is 14 per 100,000--twice                 
  the national average.   Review of  the death penalty in  New                 
  York State  over a  60-year period  (1906-1966) evidences  a                 
  pattern  of  two  additional   murders  during  each   month                 
  following one or  more executions.   Findings indicate  that                 
  those  who  are  predisposed to  violent  behavior  are more                 
  likely  to be  incited  than  deterred  by the  prospect  of                 
  execution.    Mr.  Campbell  acknowledged  that   statistics                 
  provide indications rather than absolute conclusions.                        
  Mr.  Campbell  said he  recognized  the political  appeal of                 
  capital   punishment,   particularly   in  districts   where                 
  constituents  feel  strongly about  the  issue.   While most                 
  people believe in the  death penalty from time to  time, for                 
  particular crimes, when all facts  are considered, there are                 
  no  arguments  in  favor  of  it.   There  are  no  national                 
  organizations working for perpetuation of the death penalty.                 
  A better approach  would be for the  legislature to research                 
  what is happening  throughout the United States  and provide                 
  information to constituents.   In  his closing remarks,  Mr.                 
  Campbell stressed that capital punishment is not good public                 
  policy.  It will not control crime.                                          
  Senator Randy Phillips  referenced prior advisory votes  and                 
  noted that the  legislature took no  action based on any  of                 
  them.   Mr.  Campbell  suggested  that  on  this  issue  the                 
  legislature should advise the voters  rather than the voters                 
  advising the legislature.  Senator Phillips said that voters                 
  would  review  the facts  prior  to  a vote.    Mr. Campbell                 
  suggested that the right information  might not be provided.                 
  Surveys indicate that the majority  thinks the death penalty                 
  is inexpensive and would save money.                                         
  SUSIE GREGG  FOWLER next came before committee.   She voiced                 
  concern that the  intent of  the advisory vote  is to  limit                 
  discussion on merits and costs  of capital punishment.  That                 
  discussion should occur with statewide public participation.                 
  Presenting  Alaskans  with  an  advisory   vote  on  capital                 
  punishment  would  be  a  great   disservice  in  that  many                 
  residents are not well informed about current punishment for                 
  those convicted  of murder.   A  recent poll  shows that  78                 
  percent of Alaskans  believe that  those convicted of  first                 
  degree murder are  released after one  to twenty years.   In                 
  fact,  there  is  no release  after  twenty  years,  and the                 
  average  sentence is  eighty to  ninety years.   People  are                 
  frightened by stories of  those who get out and  kill again.                 
  Those stories have remained in the mind of the public rather                 
  than actual  facts about  what the  criminal justice  system                 
  A second  problem  with the  advisory  vote relates  to  the                 
  question being asked.  The  death penalty information center                 
  released a  report, three  years ago,  which indicated  that                 
  when the public is simply asked whether it is for or against                 
  the  death   penalty,  a  high  percentage   (77%)  responds                 
  affirmatively.  When asked if they support the death penalty                 
  or life without parole plus restitution, support for capital                 
  punishment dropped to  49 percent, and 44  percent preferred                 
  life imprisonment.  Opposition to the death penalty does not                 
  suggest that one  is soft on crime.   At issue is  the moral                 
  question  of life  or death and  the appropriateness  of the                 
  state taking a life.                                                         
  Mrs. Fowler voiced need for leadership which does not pander                 
  to public fears but seeks different opinions and  then makes                 
  courageous  and responsible decisions.   She  suggested that                 
  there is no compelling reason for the advisory vote.                         
  ANNIE  CARPENETI,  Assistant   Attorney  General,   Criminal                 
  Division, Dept. of  Law, next came before  committee voicing                 
  opposition to the bill.  She stressed that the death penalty                 
  is an  extremely difficult subject.   It is  associated with                 
  issues that need  debate within the  legislature.  Asking  a                 
  single question for or against capital punishment is unfair.                 
  Will voters know that it costs from three  to six times more                 
  to execute  a prisoner than to house  an inmate for the rest                 
  of his or her life?                                                          
  Ms.  Carpeneti  next  spoke to  problems  capital punishment                 
  would cause prosecutors because  it "skews the case law  for                 
  all cases."  Many decisions in a criminal case are committed                 
  to the discretion of a trial judge.   When the stakes are as                 
  high as the death  penalty, judges will want to  ensure that                 
  they  are correct.  They will bend  over backwards to do so.                 
  The criminal justice system is not perfect.  It has resulted                 
  in  execution of innocent  people in the past.   There is no                 
  reason  to expect  that will not  occur in  the future.   No                 
  information evidences that capital punishment deters murder.                 
  The  Dept. of  Law  is  getting  long  sentences  for  those                 
  convicted of first degree murder.                                            
  In territorial days, when capital  punishment was in effect,                 
  evidence indicates that  non-whites were executed at  a much                 
  higher rate than  whites, for similar  offenses.  This is  a                 
  problem  all  states  with   death  penalty  provisions  are                 
  attempting to address.                                                       
  In her concluding  remarks, Mrs. Carpeneti advised  that the                 
  death penalty  is wrong.   Violence  should not  be answered                 
  with violence. Research shows that if  a single question, as                 
  contemplated  by  the advisory  vote,  is placed  before the                 
  public, the response is affirmative.  A selection of options                 
  provides  a much different response.   There is concern that                 
  an advisory vote asking only  one question will be perceived                 
  as a public mandate.                                                         
  Comments followed  by  Senator  Randy  Phillips  reiterating                 
  earlier  statements  that the  legislature  has not,  in the                 
  past, acted on advisory votes.                                               
  Senator Sharp requested a brief at ease.                                     
                       RECESS -  3:15 P.M.                                     
                     RECONVENE - 3:30 P.M.                                     
  Senator  Sharp  MOVED   that  CSSSSB  52  (Jud)   pass  from                 
  committee.  Senator  Zharoff OBJECTED.   Co-chairman Halford                 
  called for a show of hands.  The motion carried on a vote of                 
  5 to 1,  and CSSSSB 52  (Jud) was REPORTED OUT  of committee                 
  with a  $2.2 fiscal  note from  the Office  of the  Governor                 
  (Division of  Elections) and  zero notes  from the Dept.  of                 
  Public  Safety  and the  Alaska  Court System.   Co-chairmen                 
  Halford and Frank and Senators Phillips and Sharp signed the                 
  committee report with a "do  pass" recommendation.  Senators                 
  Rieger and Zharoff signed "no recommendation."                               

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