Editor’s Note: On Nov. 8 Oklahoma voters will be making several decisions from choosing a president to answering seven state questions.
In an effort to help with those decisions, The Mix 105.1 has turned to the 2016 Oklahoma Voter Guide to review the seven state questions that will be put to voters on Nov. 8. The Oklahoma Voter Guide is a nonpartisan effort by a coalition of Oklahoma entities from both the non-profit and for profit sectors. The voter guide does not endorse or oppose any candidates for state or federal office, nor does it take any position on the state questions.
Following is the review of State Question 776 on the Death Penalty.
STATE QUESTION 776
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 man-dates 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.
State Question 776 does two things: it addresses the method of execution for an inmate on death row, and it states that the death penalty shall not be deemed cruel and unusual punishment. If the proposal is approved, a new section would be added to the Oklahoma Constitution that allows the state to continue to impose the death penalty, even if a specific method of execution becomes unavailable. Death sentences would remain in effect until they can be carried out by any method not prohibited by the US Constitution.
If approved, the constitutional amendment would apply to the state constitution but not the federal constitution or courts applying federal law.
The Oklahoma death penalty law, enacted in 1976, has been consistently applied by Oklahoma elected officials: the state executed 191 men and three women between 1915 and 2014 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (eighty-two by electrocution, one by hanging, and 111 by lethal injection). Statutes specifically allow gas inhalation, electrocution, and firing squad as backups to the primary form of execution by lethal injection.
In October 2015, Oklahoma suspended executions for a review of lethal injection protocols. One of the drugs most commonly used for lethal injection is sodium thiopental, which is no longer manufactured in the United States. In 2011, the European Commission imposed restrictions on the export of certain drugs used for lethal injections in the United States.
As a result, many states no longer have the drugs used to carry out lethal injection. Oklahoma has turned to other drugs as a substitute for sodium thiopental. However, recent instances of executions around the country in which alternative drugs were used may have produced adverse outcomes.
The death penalty is legal in thirty-one states, and illegal in nineteen.
PROPONENTS SAY: YES
The death penalty is legal in Oklahoma and has a history of support from officials and the general public. The state’s ability to carry it out must be protected at a higher, constitutional level.
There is a chance that certain drugs used in lethal injections, or even the use of lethal injection itself, will be ruled unconstitutional. Oklahoma needs options so that the death penalty can continue to be used.
The state of Oklahoma should have more flexibility to designate and use any available, legal method of execution.
OPPONENTS SAY: NO
Oklahomans are increasingly opposed to the death penalty, citing inconsistent application of it as a punishment, a preference for life sentences, and the increasing frequency of exonerations.
This measure could make it much more difficult to rule Oklahoma’s death penalty unconstitutional and could make use of barbaric practices such as the firing squad more likely.
The amendment’s only purpose is to undermine the current moratorium resulting from the recent mistakes in the administration of the lethal drug method of execution.
The Mix 105.1 thanks and credits the following for the information – The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma, KOSU, OETA, Tyler Media, KGOU, Oklahoma Watch, The Oklahoman, and Kirkpatrick Foundation.
For more information on the 2016 Oklahoma Voter Guide visit okvoterguide.com.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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