[JURIST] New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) [official website] on Wednesday signed a bill [text, PDF; HB 285 materials] which repealed [press release] the use of the death penalty [JURIST news archive] in the state. The bill replaces the use of capital punishment with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for capital felony convictions. Richardson spoke about his reasons for signing the bill, admitting that he changed his view of capital punishment during his time as governor and encouraging other states to abolish the death penalty:
Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment – in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that. But six years ago, when I took office as Governor of the State of New Mexico, I started to challenge my own thinking on the death penalty. Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime. If the State is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong. But… [t]he system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country.
From an international human rights perspective, there is no reason the United States should be behind the rest of the world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to support and use the death penalty are also the most repressive nations in the world. That’s not something to be proud of. In a society which values individual life and liberty above all else, where justice and not vengeance is the singular guiding principle of our system of criminal law, the potential for wrongful conviction and, God forbid, execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings. That is why I’m signing this bill into law.
The bill, which was approved [New Mexico Independent report] by the New Mexico Senate [official website] by a vote of 24-18 last week, goes into effect on July 1. It is not clear what will happen to those currently on death row in New Mexico.
With the legislation, New Mexico will become the second state to abolish the death penalty since the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] reinstated it nationally in 1976. New Jersey was the first state to pass [JURIST report] such a law in 2007. There are currently fourteen other states [AP report] which do not allow the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) [advocacy website], Maryland, Utah, Kansas, Colorado, and Montana are considering [press release] eliminating or limiting the use of capital punishment.