Kansas Supreme Court Strikes Down Death Penalty Law

December 21, 2004 12:00 am

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Fourteen States Have Banned Capital Punishment

WASHINGTON–The American Civil Liberties Union applauded a decision made today by the Kansas Supreme Court to strike down the state’s death penalty law, making it the 14th state to ban capital punishment.

“Today’s development should not surprise anyone,” said Rachel King, an attorney with the Capital Punishment Project. “Our experience in looking at the death penalty teaches us that it is exceedingly difficult to craft a system that is both procedurally fair and mistake-free. Without the death penalty, we hope Kansas will be able to focus its resources on providing more support for crime victims as well as crime prevention efforts.”

On June 24, New York’s highest court also ruled that its state death penalty statute was unconstitutional. Kansas and New York were the two most recent states to reinstate the death penalty, with Kansas reinstating it in 1994 and New York in 1995. Neither state has executed anyone since reinstatement.

The Kansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty law on a 4-3 vote because it said the law gave the state an unfair advantage over defendants during the sentencing process. The ACLU’s King noted that Kansas has a history of antipathy toward the death penalty; the state abolished capital punishment in 1907, brought it back in 1935 and then observed a moratorium in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the Republican governor at the time said, “I just don’t like killing people.” Today’s ruling vacates all six death sentences in Kansas.

Last year, Kansas officials released a cost study that showed that prosecuting capital cases costs approximately 70 percent more than comparable non-death penalty cases. The study found that the median cost of a death penalty trial and appeals was $1.26 million while non-death penalty cases cost a median of $740,000.

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