New Hampshire became the 21st state to drop the death penalty on Thursday — the latest on a growing list of states abandoning capital punishment.
The New Hampshire bill, which replaces capital punishment with life in prison without parole, is something that lawmakers have been arguing over for months, ending only when state lawmakers overrode Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto.
The debate itself is mostly symbolic: New Hampshire hasn’t executed anyone since 1939 and the only person currently sentenced to death is Michael Addison — a man who killed Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006, the Washington Post’s Mark Berman wrote. The state does not even have lethal injection drugs on hand.
Death penalty opponents have been close to achieving their goal before: in both 2000 and 2018, a bill banning executions passed legislature but was struck down by the sitting governors. When Sununu announced that he would veto a third anti-death penalty bill in April, he did so at a community center named after Briggs and said the bill would be an “injustice to not only Officer Briggs and his family, but to law enforcement and victims of violent crime around the state,” according to the Boston Globe.
In the end, lawmakers’ push for the abolishment of the death penalty prevailed: The House voted for the bill 247 to 123, the Senate 16 to 8.
During the days leading up to the vote, those who supported the death penalty along with the governor invoked empathy for the victims, such as state Sen. Sharon Carson.
“I stand here in support of the victims,” Carson said, according to the Washington Post. “Think about the victims here, people who have been murdered. Their family gets to visit them in a cemetery. They don’t get to go to a prison to visit their loved one, get letters, phone calls. The victim truly received a life sentence.”
Others, such as state Sen. Melanie Levesque, saw the death penalty as “archaic, costly, discriminatory, and final,” according to the Boston Globe. This is a sentiment that is growing among the public nationwide as well: Gallup surveys show that support for the death penalty dropped from 80 percent in 1994 to 56 percent in 2018.
New Hampshire’s ban on execution points to a larger trend of states dropping the the death penalty. The Death Penalty Information Center reported that 2018 was the fourth year in a row where there were fewer than 30 executions nationwide. And it might make more sense for states to avoid the death penalty when skepticism toward its benefits is rising, as reported by Vox’s German Lopez.
The research and experts have long been skeptical that the death penalty actually deters or prevents more crime. As the Death Penalty Information Center noted, a 2009 survey of the US’s top criminologists found that 88 percent “do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide” and 87 percent “believe that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates.”
Twenty-nine states continue to have the death penalty as an option on the table, and some, including Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia practice it regularly; a man was executed in Florida last week. But for many states, death penalty sentences have been rendered almost useless as governors have vowed to block them or courts have shut them down as unconstitutional.