On Feb. 26, 2020, Colorado lawmakers voted to pass a bill which will repeal Colorado’s death penalty. The bill is now awaiting a signature from the Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis. Consequently, Colorado will be the 22nd state to repeal the death penalty.
Starting July 1, 2020, the severest possible sentence for capital crimes will be life in prison. These crimes include child abuse, premeditated murder, and first-degree kidnapping. Prior to the repeal, Colorado’s only permitted method of execution has been the lethal injection since 1988.
In order to transform a bill into a law, Colorado state law requires thirty-three favorable votes from the House of Representatives, eighteen votes from the Senate, and the signature of approval from the Governor.
Over half of Colorado House of Representatives are democrats who were generally opposed to the death penalty and were eager to pass the bill. The controversy arose from Senate, whose members were split on the subject. Now that the bill has passed both branches of Congress, Democrat and first-ever openly gay United States Governor Jared Polis is expected to swiftly sign the bill.
Governor Polis has long-established his stance against capital punishment, arguing that it is inhumane, cost-ineffective, and discriminatory policy.
In 2018, the Governor asserted, “I will sign it [the Colorado bill abolishing death penalty]. It’s not cost effective. It’s not an effective deterrent. And, you know, I do have a problem with some of the ways it’s been implemented from a racial-bias perspective as well. I mean, the fact that all three people on death row happen to be African American and yet the theater killer who killed 14 people didn’t get it, but somebody who killed two people got it, I mean, it makes you just sort of ask that question about why somebody who killed two people got it and why somebody who killed 14 people didn’t.”
Currently, there are three death row inmates in Colorado. While repealing the death penalty would not normally affect their sentences, Governor Polis has confirmed that he may grant the inmates clemency following the repeal.
Elaborating on the implications of the new bill, Polis said, “I would certainly take that as a strong indication that those who are currently on death row should have their sentences commuted to life in prison.”
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Among the Senators against the repeal was Assistant Majority Leader Rhonda Fields, whose son and fiancée were murdered in 2005 by two of the three inmates currently on Colorado’s death row.
Senator Fields grapples with the repeal, stating, “It’s hurtful, because it reminds me of my own personal trauma and scars as it relates to the death of my son and his fiancée, and I have to live with that pain and those scars every day.”
Today, we debate the repeal of the death penalty in Colorado.
While the issue – and this vote – will divide both caucuses, we ALL admire @SenRhondaFields today.
— Colorado Senate Republicans (@ColoSenGOP) January 30, 2020
This is not the first time Colorado has attempted to abolish the death penalty: this 2020 repeal will be the fourth time the penalty has been overturned in Colorado history. Capital punishment was first abolished in 1897, and then the practice was reinstated in 1901.
Eventually, death penalty was halted again as a result of the 1972 case Furman v. Georgia, which established the death penalty as unconstitutional. In order to reinstate capital punishment once more, Colorado lawmakers passed a rewritten death penalty law in 1974 which was consequently revoked in 1978, and then once again reinstated finally in 1979.
The death penalty fails to do those things while also risking innocent lives. My experience shows it is an ineffective and expensive system, and my philosophical stance is that the state should not have the power of life and death.
— Republican Senator Jack Tate
One of the senators who changed his vote to help pass the repeal was Republican Jack Tate. Senator Tate explained his change of heart, “I believe we should promote public policies that make our communities safer and provide victims with the services they need. The death penalty fails to do those things while also risking innocent lives. My experience shows it is an ineffective and expensive system, and my philosophical stance is that the state should not have the power of life and death.”