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Nebraska Supreme Court Bans Electric Chair

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February 8, 2008

Yesterday, the Nebraska Supreme Court found 6-1 the use of the electric chair unconstitutional under the state’s constitution. The Omaha World-Herald noted:

There was court testimony acknowledging a risk that death would not be instantaneous, that the condemned person may suffer “intolerable pain” and that the bodies of the condemned frequently are burned in executions.

The high court noted that Nebraska’s status as the only remaining state with the electric chair as its sole means of execution indicates that societal standards have changed.

Last month we blogged about Maryland being the next state to possibly repeal the death penalty. Nebraska might be on that road as well. The World-Herald reported in another 6-1 ruling, the state’s judiciary committee voted to advance Legislative Bill 1063, which would replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole.

Amy Miller, Legal Director for ACLU Nebraska, reacted to the decision:

Nebraska’s electric chair was made in 1919, and we’re still using that same chair. In 1919, the world was very different: women could not vote, people of color were denied virtually every protection of law, union organizers were openly arrested and beaten, and child labor permeated American industry. We aren’t still driving Model T Fords, and we shouldn’t be using any other machinery from the 19th Century now in the 21st Century. The Nebraska Supreme Court’s elimination of the electric chair was almost a foregone conclusion, given the modern world’s standards of decency.

But it’s not just the machine that is archaic – the concept of executing a few of those criminals who murder people is also archaic. Even if we install new, modern machinery or adopt a new method of execution to take lives, our dignity as humans is comprised when we kill with taxpayer money. We are simply too civilized to cling to the bloodthirsty fashions of a past era. The Court has clearly pointed out that it is bound by the actions of the Legislature, and it is time for the Legislature to completely abolish the death penalty.”

We are hopeful that Nebraska will follow New Jersey and abolish the death penalty.

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