Mar 25, 2009

New Mexico Abolishes Capital Punishment

New Mexico has abolished capital punishment, effective July 1, 2009. With its abolishment, LWOP (Life Without Possibility of Parole) becomes New Mexico's maximum punishment.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed the law even though he personally supports capital punishment. Richardson concluded that though the death penalty may be warranted for the worst crimes, he believed that the criminal justice system cannot fairly distinguish those murderers who should die for their crimes from those who are allowed to live. He was also influenced by statistics showing that nationally, about 130 death row prisoners have been shown to be innocent-- mostly through DNA evidence. 

For capital punishment opponents, the symbolic value of the state's decision may outweigh its practical impact.  New Mexico currently has only 2 prisoners on death row, and the state has executed only 2 people since 1960. Yet its abolishment adds to a growing sense that like all European countries, the United States will eventually ban capital punishment. The number of death senetences handed down and carried out in the United States has dropped for each of the last 5 years. The decision of New Mexico's legislature to abolish capital punishment, and in particular Gov. Richardson's reasons for accepting the decision, is another signal that the country will eventually hand capital punishment a death sentence of its own.