Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/07/1996 01:30 PM Senate JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
             SB  52 CAPITAL PUNISHMENT FOR MURDER                             
 SENATOR GREEN moved adoption of the committee substitute (9-LS0524-           
 F) for SSSB 52.  SENATOR ADAMS objected.  He requested the term               
 "capital punishment" be substituted with the term "death penalty"             
 in the title to ensure the public understands what the issue is               
 about.  He also felt that rather than offer an advisory vote which            
 would limit the answer to yes or no, the question be rephrased to             
 offer a second option.                                                        
 Number 422                                                                    
 SENATOR ELLIS asked why the committee substitute dramatically                 
 changes the sponsor substitute.  SENATOR TAYLOR replied the                   
 difficulty of attempting to address and pass legislation this year            
 pertaining to capital punishment, given the complexity of other               
 issues before the committee and considering time constraints, is              
 unrealistic.  He added that by giving the public the opportunity to           
 vote on the issue now, the legislature will know whether or not to            
 proceed with it.  He stated he sincerely believes that most people            
 understand the term "capital punishment" to be a death penalty, and           
 that term was used only because it was the term used by legislative           
 Number 447                                                                    
 SENATOR ADAMS felt the term is a technical change which could be              
 made easily; and he requested a second option be contained in the             
 advisory vote.  He also requested a fiscal note from the Department           
 of Corrections.  He commented the State of California estimates               
 each execution to cost $15 million, and the cost varies with other            
 death penalty states.  SENATOR TAYLOR stated a fiscal note would be           
 requested upon adoption of the committee substitute.                          
 SENATOR ADAMS maintained his objection to adoption of the committee           
 substitute.  A roll call vote was taken with Senators Miller,                 
 Taylor and Green voting "yea," and Senators Adams and Ellis voting            
 "nay."  The motion carried.                                                   
 SENATOR TAYLOR announced to teleconference sites that copies of the           
 committee substitute were distributed to those sites, and asked               
 witnesses to direct their testimony to CSSSSB 52 (Jud).                       
 JIM MCCONUS, President of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty                  
 (AADP), testified in opposition to the measure.  AADP began with 12           
 members in Anchorage two years ago; its current membership is over            
 650.  AADP believes it is time for the legislature to take the                
 responsible act of getting to the merits of the death penalty                 
 debate.  He questioned why the advisory vote maneuver has been                
 offered twice in three years on the day of the hearing.  He                   
 expressed frustration that discussion about the merits of the death           
 penalty is avoided.  He made the following points.  After a century           
 of study and debate, there remains not one legitimate public policy           
 which can be cited in support of the death penalty.  It wastes                
 millions of scarce dollars; it does not reduce murder rates, murder           
 rates tend to be higher in states with a death penalty; its                   
 application is heavily effected by race and wealth; and innocent              
 lives are lost because fatal mistakes are made.  Supporters of the            
 advisory vote will be able to affirm their desire for the death               
 penalty without accepting the political accountability of casting             
 a vote on its merits.  He questioned why advisory votes are not               
 used for other issues the legislature needs to address, such as               
 tort reform, which the public is not fully informed about.                    
 MR. MCCONUS reviewed a chart before committee members.  In 1993,              
 1,000 registered voters across the United States were interviewed.            
 Most people favored life without parole and restitution (44%) over            
 the death penalty.  CSSSSB 52 (Jud) asks the voters the question              
 "Do you favor the death penalty as another sentencing mechanism?"             
 When phrased that way, the response rate has been 70 to 80 percent.           
 By eliciting that response, a perceived public mandate will be put            
 in motion, which is erroneous, since whenever any other alternative           
 is offered, the mandate for the death penalty drops.  If voters are           
 asked whether or not they want the kind of sentence already imposed           
 by Alaska courts for aggravated murders (life without parole and              
 restitution) the death penalty loses every time.  This question               
 will not find out what the public thinks but will create a public             
 mandate based on misconceptions.  He cited statistics from polls in           
 other states which all favored life in prison to the death penalty.           
 If people are asked what should be done with people convicted of              
 first degree murder, most people favor the sentence already imposed           
 by Alaska courts.  Passage of CSSSSB 52 (Jud) will prevent                    
 legislative deliberation and responsibility in the future.                    
 Number 542                                                                    
 FRANK SMITH testified from Barrow in opposition to CSSSSB 52 (Jud).           
 The same arguments have been made repeatedly to the legislature.              
 No first degree murderers are released within a short time period             
 and reoffend.  The advisory vote, as posed, will only elicit                  
 responses which proponents expect, to obtain the desired result.              
 The sentencing structure needs to be examined but making it harsher           
 is not the solution.  Too many misconceptions exist, and innocent             
 lives can be lost.                                                            
 DIANE SHRINER, representing the Division of Elections, spoke to the           
 cost of placing an advisory vote on the November ballot.  The                 
 figure of $2.2 thousand includes the cost of providing information            
 in the official election pamphlet, as required by AS 15.58.  The              
 programming cost for counting votes cast on the measure is also               
 included.  Only four measures can be printed on a single ballot               
 card.  If the measure requires an additional ballot card, the cost            
 would increase by $53.4 thousand.  The official election pamphlet             
 would include the ballot, the Legislative Affairs explanation of              
 the measure, and a statement in support and in opposition of the              
 KEVIN MCCOY, testifying from Anchorage, felt this bill asks Alaskan           
 voters to make a decision in a vacuum.  The voters are not being              
 informed of what this change will do to the state's burden of proof           
 requirements in a criminal case, nor are they being told what the             
 current sentencing structure is.  A death penalty conviction makes            
 it harder to convict those who truly have committed first degree              
 murder.  To demonstrate that current sentencing laws work, he named           
 several infamous cases.  For example, Louis Hastings killed six               
 people in McCarthy; he was sentenced to 630 years in jail and will            
 be eligible for parole after 210 years.  Most citizens think                  
 murderers are released from prison in seven years.                            
 SCOTT STERLING, an attorney, testified in opposition to CSSSSB 52             
 (Jud) for the following reasons.  It is hypocritical to punish                
 heinous crimes by means of a heinous crime.  Research throughout              
 history does not confirm the claim that capital punishment is an              
 effective general deterrent.  Once inflicted, the death penalty's             
 irreversibility prevents correction of those instances in which the           
 criminal justice system convicts the wrong person.  Research shows            
 the death penalty is not applied in proportion to the seriousness             
 of the crime.  Death is imposed on a randomly selected subset of              
 people convicted of capital offenses.  Prosecutorial discretion, in           
 charging and plea bargaining, virtually assures this randomness.              
 The death penalty is far more frequently imposed on minorities than           
 on whites.  As a class, paroled murderers show lower recidivism               
 rates for their crimes than do most classes of felons.   This is              
 tied to the sociological fact that most murders occur on a one-time           
 or a crime of passion basis.                                                  
 Number 539                                                                    
 GINA TABACHKI testified from Fairbanks in opposition to CSSSSB 52             
 (Jud).  She finds an advisory vote to be unreasonable and an                  
 abdication of legislative responsibility.  She urged Senators to              
 review the merits of the capital punishment bill rather than rely             
 on measures like an advisory vote.  She expressed her frustration             
 that she had prepared testimony on the merits of the death penalty            
 in response to SSSB 52, which was the measure scheduled.  She                 
 questioned if the committee substitute was a deliberate attempt to            
 avoid discussion on the merits of the issue.  She felt it is unfair           
 to citizens who try to use the existing process to express views.             
 DAVID SEID, a public defender from Ketchikan, opposed CSSSSB
 52(Jud), and agreed with Ms. Tabachki's testimony.  He was informed           
 and believed he would be addressing the merits of capital                     
 punishment.  He also agreed with Mr. McConus' and Mr. McCoy's                 
 views.  He urged the committee to remove the bill, and bring                  
 forward debate on the merits of capital punishment.                           
 Number 502                                                                    
 CHRISTINE REICHMAN testified from Valdez in opposition to CSSSSB 52           
 (Jud).  She agreed with all previous witnesses.                               
 JUSTICE VIC CARLSON, retired 4th Judicial District Superior Court             
 Judge, testified from Bethel.   He expressed concern about putting            
 a vote before the people without a full educational package.  One             
 of the issues that has not already been addressed is how the death            
 penalty shifts the balance of power between the prosecution and the           
 person on trial.  When a person is on trial and may be facing                 
 capital punishment, the district attorney can offer to remove the             
 capital punishment penalty which almost forces the defendant to               
 accept the plea agreement of life imprisonment even if he/she did             
 not commit the crime.  He believes it is the responsibility of the            
 legislature to engage in this discussion and educational process,             
 and not just pass the issue to the public who cannot be expected to           
 review it in depth.                                                           
 BOB KINTZELE, a legal investigator from Kenai, worked on death                
 penalty cases in California which involved Alaska citizens and                
 assured committee members the costs of such cases are extreme.  He            
 compared the capital punishment advisory vote to the capital move             
 vote.  He believes the public will need to know the costs                     
 associated with capital punishment.  He estimated each case would             
 cost $3-$5 million at a minimum.                                              
 CHARLES ROHRBACHER, made the following comments on behalf of                  
 Amnesty International.  Amnesty International works worldwide,                
 without condition, for the release of all prisoners of conscience,            
 for the fair and speedy trial of all prisoners, regardless of                 
 charge, and against all forms of torture and inhumane treatment of            
 any prisoners, and for the abolition of the death penalty.  He                
 stated Amnesty International opposes any step, including an                   
 advisory vote, that advances the reinstatement of the death penalty           
 in Alaska.  The death penalty is morally wrong.  No vote by a                 
 majority, anywhere, changes that fact.  The death penalty is a                
 human rights violation.  CSSSSB 52 (Jud) contains no death penalty            
 alternatives and does not inform voters of the potential cost of              
 the death penalty versus life imprisonment.  He provided committee            
 members with a booklet, "Don't Kill for Us."  Amnesty International           
 believes the death penalty sends the wrong message.  It involves              
 the state in condoning cold, calculated taking of life.  It                   
 legitimizes murder as a problem solving method.  All western                  
 countries, except for the United States, have abolished the death             
 penalty.  It does not protect society, but has a brutalizing effect           
 showing that life is cheap.  It redirects the attention from the              
 victim to the perpetrator.  Countries that the U.S. has been highly           
 critical of for human rights violations, such as El Salvador and              
 South Africa, have in the last ten years either abolished or                  
 overturned their death penalties.  Amnesty International focusses             
 on people suffering from the arbitrary actions of government.  Of             
 major concern is that innocent people may be executed.  There are             
 23 known innocent people who have been executed since 1923.  Thomas           
 Jefferson did not believe in having a death penalty until it was              
 possible to demonstrate the infallibility of human judgments.                 
 Number 414                                                                    
 JOHN GALLANT, representing Amnesty International from Soldotna,               
 read quotes from Camus and discussed his opposition to the measure            
 based on religious tenets.  He commented that in Alaska, religion             
 is very dominant.  He shared figures from a document compiled by              
 Alaskans Against the Death Penalty (Jan., 1994).  The cost of                 
 instituting the death penalty in Alaska will exceed $21 million in            
 the first four years.  Those figures were calculated using                    
 departmental fiscal notes.  The figures are based on an average of            
 six death penalty cases, however an average of 25 first degree                
 murder cases are litigated per year.  The cost of an execution is             
 three times the amount it would cost to imprison a person in a                
 single cell at the highest security level for 40 years.  He added             
 the critical issue is the taking of human life, not the cost.                 
 Number 372                                                                    
 BARBARA HOOD, an Anchorage businesswoman and Amnesty International            
 member, testified in opposition to the death penalty, and the                 
 advisory ballot because it forces voters into a deceptive choice.             
 She noted the following myths about the death penalty:                        
  1.  the death penalty is less costly - studies show the death                
 penalty is consistently more expensive;                                       
  2.  the death penalty deters crime - no study can determine                  
 this to be true;                                                              
  3.   law enforcement agencies support the death penalty - in                 
 a 1995 poll of chiefs of police nationwide, two-thirds felt the               
 death penalty is not an effective law enforcement tool;                       
  4.  victims' families demand the death penalty - some are the                
 most ardent opponents to execution because they believe it to be a            
 horrible memorial to a loved one;                                             
  5.  race is not a factor - studies show race plays a                         
 significant role in who is executed - in Territorial Alaska, 75               
 percent of those executed were Alaska Natives or other minorities;            
  6.  the death penalty is not arbitrary - last year the State                 
 of Texas executed a man after they discovered he had not committed            
 the murder for which he was convicted;                                        
  7.  no innocent lives are lost - our legal institutions are                  
 not perfect, just as human beings are not perfect.                            
 The advisory ballot will do nothing to change these misperceptions            
 about the death penalty.                                                      
 WALTER [indisc.] read a statement for Charlotte Bashom, who                   
 represented the Central Alaska Friends Conference, a statewide                
 conference of Quaker churches.  [Because of poor transmission, that           
 statement was not transcribed but is available in written form                
 through the Senate Judiciary Committee.]                                      
 Number 291                                                                    
 CHARLES CAMPBELL, past Director of the Division of Corrections,               
 with 45 years of experience in the field of Corrections, stated he            
 is unable to address the issue adequately in the time period                  
 provided.  He stated the legislature is in the position to do an              
 enormously good deed for the people of the state, by deciding to              
 embark on a truly serious, objective, legitimate, authentic inquiry           
 into what the death penalty is all about.  He has absolutely no               
 doubt whatsoever that the conclusion would be that to reintroduce             
 the death penalty would be to go back on the wisdom of the                    
 territorial legislators and would be a devastating mistake.  It               
 would not serve the best interests of the state, would not reduce             
 crime, and would bring about a great deal of capriciousness and               
 unfairness.  He would look forward to participating in a serious              
 inquiry on the merits of the death penalty.                                   
 JEROME ADAMS testified from Fairbanks in opposition to the death              
 penalty for three reasons:  innocent people are convicted; life is            
 more important and more valuable than any state right; and                    
 economically it is illogical.  He expressed concern that the public           
 has not been adequately informed about this bill, and that more               
 attention has been given to wolf control than the death penalty.              
 ROBERT CROSSMAN, testified for the Anchorage Friends Meeting of the           
 Quakers, in opposition to the death penalty.  He agreed with                  
 previous arguments about the practical and public policy objections           
 against the proposed bill.  He believes that murder is wrong, and             
 that taking human life is murder.  The committee substitute is an             
 attempt to evade responsibility for these objections.  This bill              
 provides the public with a one-sided issue, unsupported by fact,              
 and gives the perception that by supporting the death penalty one             
 will be taking a positive step toward the reduction of crime, when            
 the opposite is true.                                                         
 Number 224                                                                    
 LIZ DODD, a state and national board member of the Alaska Chapter             
 of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), opposed this revised            
 approach to achieving state executions, just as the ACLU would not            
 have supported a state initiative in 1964 in Arkansas to enforce              
 segregation of schools.  Tyranny by majority is tyranny                       
 nonetheless.  It is a disservice to our democracy to put before the           
 people a referendum that misleads by omission.  In states with a              
 death penalty, retribution is paid for out of the prevention fund.            
 Executing people after they commit crimes will be done instead of             
 stopping people before they commit the crimes.  Trading retribution           
 for prevention is not an exchange the people of Alaska would                  
 support if informed.  The proposed language would not fully inform            
 citizens of how this shifting of corrections funds will concretely            
 harm them.  Crime must be stopped at its origins.  Every profile of           
 every killer illuminates one factor:  that person was the victim of           
 neglect, abuse or brutality.  The need to curb brutality and abuse            
 in our culture is at the nucleus of crime prevention.  Finally,               
 everyone in this state has been victimized by some state error,               
 whether because of human error or computer error.  Capital                    
 punishment inevitably involves mistakes that once made, can never             
 be corrected.  Corrections are not made during the appeals process            
 since appeals are expensive and are being curtailed.  Executions              
 are happening now at a fast pace, with limited appeals.  One rule             
 of government is that mistakes happen.  The death penalty will only           
 curtail the right of all Alaskans to live their lives free of the             
 threat of state execution.                                                    
 Number 167                                                                    
 ARTHUR COUCH testified from Kenai in support of CSSSSB 52.  He                
 described a situation in which a murderer was not convicted, and              
 questioned how justice was served.                                            
 Number 145                                                                    
 BRANT MCGEE, representing himself, testified from Anchorage.  His             
 primary concern with the death penalty is with the costs, which are           
 nearly exponential.  The initial cost of reintroducing the death              
 penalty will be $4 million but within two years the cost will                 
 double in order to process cases.  The problem is that the cases do           
 not go away.  Currently most cases are finalized within one to two            
 years, even with appeals.  The national average for the time of               
 conviction to the time of execution is almost ten years, therefore            
 in Alaska, those cases would continue to be litigated on an ever              
 more complex level of appellate review during that decade long                
 period.  If the legal system started out with six cases per year,             
 there would be 12 cases in the second year, 18 in the third year,             
 etc.  At the end of ten years, before a single person has been                
 executed, there would be 60 extraordinarily demanding cases.  More            
 than $50 million will be spent before the first person is executed.           
 Voters must be fully informed of the complete cost over a ten year            
 period prior to a vote on the reimposition of the death penalty.              
 Number 085                                                                    
 SENATOR TAYLOR asked Mr. McGee to provide the committee with                  
 information on costs, especially in relation to the cost of the               
 recent case in Florida where two German tourists were murdered and            
 the convict plead out to a life imprisonment term.  He discussed              
 Judge Carlson's comments about the frightening leverage given to              
 the legal system if the death penalty is imposed.  In summary, he             
 stated he was dismayed by the idea that it is more morally                    
 appropriate to sentence a person to life in prison and felt that              
 sentence to be more torturous than the death penalty.                         
 Due to time constraints, no further testimony was taken.  SENATOR             
 TAYLOR asked that witnesses send written comments to the committee            
 for distribution.  The meeting was adjourned at 3:05 p.m.                     

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