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Oklahoma Voters to See Death Penalty Question on State Ballot

17-Oct-2016

In early November, Oklahoma voters will be asked to make some important decisions, not only about the presidency, but also about several key issues in the state.

Two state questions, SQ 776 and SQ 780, pertain to criminal justice in the state. A third, SQ 781, is contingent on the passing of SQ 780, and will deal with the use of funds generated if that law passes. This post examines SQ 776. We will discuss SQ 780 in our next post.

SQ 776 is a death penalty question. Oklahoma is the home of lethal injection--although it was not first used in this state, it was invented here as a "humane" method of execution. However, in recent years, the status of lethal injection has been in question. Oklahoma and other states have had a hard time procuring the drugs necessary to perform lethal injection executions legally, and in several cases, the efficacy and humaneness of the drugs has been called into question. You likely remember the botched execution of Clayton Lockett and the use of the wrong drug in the execution of Charles Warner. The discovery of the wrong drug led to the last-minute postponement of the execution of Richard Glossip and a moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma. SQ 776 asks voters to protect the death penalty in Oklahoma:

This measure adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution, Section 9A of Article 2. The new Section deals with the death penalty. The Section establishes State constitutional mandates relating to the death penalty and methods of execution. Under these constitutional requirements:

*The Legislature is expressly empowered to designate any method of execution not prohibited by the United States Constitution.

*Death sentences shall not be reduced because a method of execution is ruled to be invalid.

*When an execution method is declared invalid, the death penalty imposed shall remain in force until it can be carried out using any valid execution method, and

*The imposition of a death penalty under Oklahoma law­—as distinguished from a method of execution—shall not be deemed to be or constitute the infliction of cruel or unusual punishment under Oklahoma’s Constitution, nor to contravene any provision of the Oklahoma Constitution.

In other words, if voters approve SQ 776, it would mean that Oklahoma's constitution will protect the death penalty, specifically stating that it is not "cruel and unusual punishment." The law will give the state legislature the power to prescribe any means of execution not specifically prohibited by federal law--in other words, if lethal injection methods are declared invalid, the state could use any other means of execution: electric chair, gas chamber, firing squad, etc.

Supporters seem to see the writing on the wall: that lethal injection drugs are more and more likely to be ruled unconstitutional. This law will give Oklahoma flexibility and options in carrying out the death penalty. 

Opponents say the only purpose of the law is to undermine the current moratorium on the death penalty and say that the law will allow barbaric methods of execution and will make it difficult to rule the death penalty unconstitutional in a time where more and more Americans support the repeal of capital punishment.



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