Issues

Colorado Moves to Abolish Death Penalty

Colorado state capitol building
Colorado state capitol building / Wikimedia Commons

Colorado lawmakers have officially introduced their proposal to abolish the state's death penalty, the sixth attempt in recent years, but the first expected to pass.

The bill, SB20-100, would officially abolish the death penalty for individuals prosecuted after July 1, 2020, KOAA 5 reports, making Colorado the 22nd abolition state. Individuals already on death row—Colorado currently has three—would be exempted from the repeal.

Colorado state lawmakers have floated five death penalty repeal bills in the past 12 years, but all have failed to clear the vote threshold in the state's senate, failing to clear predominantly Republican opposition. Now, however, two Republicans—state senators Jack Tate and Owen Hill—have flipped sides, the Denver Post reported last week. Tate was one of the official sponsors of the bill at its introduction.

Just one state senator, Assistant Majority Leader Rhonda Fields, opposes abolition. Fields's son and his fiancee were murdered in 2005 by two of the men who now sit on Colorado's death row.

In spite of opposition from the likes of Fields, the bill is further expected to pass the state House of Representatives and easily garner the signature of Governor Jared Polis (D.).

If repeal proceeds apace, Colorado will join a spate of states that have abolished the death penalty in the past several years. New Hampshire legislatively abolished last year, while the Washington state Supreme Court declared the state's death penalty in violation of the state constitution in late 2018. California governor Gavin Newsom (D.) implemented his own executive moratorium on the death penalty in March of last year, directly contravening repeated California state referenda which have found a majority of the voting public in favor.

While the death penalty grows rarer at the state level, the Trump administration has worked since last July to reinstate it federally. That effort is currently trapped in litigation; on Wednesday, a federal appeals court heard arguments as to whether or not the Department of Justice's proposed method of execution violates federal law by deviating from the method outlined in the state where the execution is set to be carried out.