Legislation would allow death penalty without unanimous jury vote

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Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that would remove the need for a unanimous jury decision in death penalty sentencing.

SB 64 would allow a death sentence if at least nine of the 12 jurors vote for it — a unanimous jury would still be needed to convict someone of a crime.

State Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) is the lead sponsor of the bill. While Lundberg did not respond to Boulder Weekly’s requests for comment prior to publication, he’s publically stated that he’s sponsoring the bill to create a penalty “that will cause the bad guy to think twice before they pull the trigger.”

Michael Radelet, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, has studied capital punishment for more than 30 years. He calls SB 64 “the Donald Trump Colorado death sentencing bill of 2016, because it’s all for show.

“First of all what the sponsor does not know is that the Colorado Supreme Court very clearly said that non-unanimous jury votes are unconstitutional. They did that in 1939, so this bill is [dead on arrival],” Radelet says.

Radelet and Raci Lacock conducted a study in 2009 that found 88 percent of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime.

“The thing about deterrents,” Radelet adds, “is that there are virtually no credible studies that have shown the death penalty is a stronger deterrent than life without parole.”

Radelet points to a 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences that poured over more than 30 years of studies conducted on deterrence and the death penalty.

“And their very strong conclusions, after looking at all these studies, is that there is no evidence at all to conclude the death penalty is a superior deterrent to life without parole,” Radelet says. “So unfortunately, the sponsor of this legislation is deceiving the public and creating the misimpression that this bill will do something to reduce homicide rates. Colorado’s homicide rates are already lower than the national average.”

While Radelet opposes the death penalty, he says he very much supports SB 64.

“Because if it’s passed, every new death sentence will be unconstitutional and those people who otherwise would be on death row would be resentenced to prison terms,” he says.

“Passing a non-constitutional death penalty statute is a good way to gum up the works.”