Kentucky Senator Submits Bill to Reform Death Penalty- The Latest Development!
For the opponents of Kentucky’s capital punishment law, HB-269 comes as a glimmer of hope amidst a long, drawn-out battle that promises to rage on for years to come. HB-269 makes Kentucky the second state in the country to prohibit the death penalty for mentally ill convicts.
The bill, which received bipartisan support in both houses and was passed by a majority vote of 25 in the Senate, showed that the opposition to capital punishment for the mentally ill cuts across political affiliation lines.
Yet, Kentucky’s Death Penalty is Certainly Not Dead!
Stalwarts like the Democratic Senator Robin Webb, who have long fought for the reformation of Kentucky’s death penalty laws, are sure to be less than pleased. To understand the disappointment of the likes of Webb and fellow democrat Gerald Neal, it is imperative to know their issues with the capital punishment system of the state.
Webb’s Bill to Reform Death Penalty
Both in 2013 and 2015, Senator Webb filed bills aimed at making significant reforms to the state’s death penalty policy.
Sen. Robin Webb’s proposal for SB 190 was a direct result of the criticism the state had faced for years. In 2011, the American Bar Association (ABA) examined Kentucky’s death penalty and found almost 100 things that need to be changed.
Arguably the most alarming statistic from the study cites that 67 percent of Kentucky death penalty assignments from 1967 to 2011 have been overturned. Because there were so many issues with the current law, the association recommended that the death penalty be suspended in the state until improvements are made.
Had Webb’s bill been passed, it would have resolved those issues and helped ensure that an innocent person does not have to face execution. It would mandate ongoing training for members of law enforcement as well as prosecutors, judges, and public defenders, as well as an improved system for DNA testing and storage. It also would prohibit the mentally ill from being executed.
In support of her efforts, ultimately, the Senator had echoed what the ABA had said in 202: suspend the death penalty until the myriad problems are fixed.
Reformed, yet in a limited sense!
The HB-269 was definitely built on a part of Webb’s original reformation bill, which proposed that mentally ill convicts should be exempted from capital punishment.
However, even after being passed into law, HB-269 would not apply retrospectively. This means that the 26 death row convicts would get nothing out of this reform, even if it were to apply to some of them.
Moreover, the law only allows defendants with a preexisting history and diagnosis of one of the four mental disorders stated in the bill to file a motion for the adjudication of their mental health.
This is bound to turn into a bone of contention as many defendants will no doubt argue that while they were mentally ill when the offense was committed, their lack of access to mental healthcare has led to the lack of an appropriate or any mental health diagnosis.
What’s more, the exemption will only be applicable to defendants who at the time of the offense, have a documented history and active symptoms of:
- Bipolar Disease
- Delusional Disorder
- Schizophrenia, and
- Schizoaffective Disorder
But then, where does that leave other convicts with mental illnesses? And that’s not the last of it!
They won a fight, but the war over Kentucky’s death penalty is still in limbo!
Despite what is being seen as a victory for the foes of capital punishment, 3 major parts of Webb’s Bill continue to be ignored by lawmakers. Along with exemptions for the severely mentally ill, she had also asked for:
- The enactment of measures to preserve biological evidence so that it may be used later by the convict to challenge the verdict against him/her.
- Mandatory audio-video recordings of suspect’s interview for improved accuracy in court
- Training for law enforcement, correctional and judicial personnel on issues relating to capital punishment
- Creation of a statewide repository for the storage of information pertaining to all ongoing cases that could result in capital punishment.
However, none of these were addressed by HB-269, nor are there any attempts currently being made to address them.
All things said, it’s still a step in the right direction!
Undoubtedly, lawmakers like Webb and Neal have a long way to go before they see their efforts come to complete fruition in the sense of the phrase. But, the fact that after years spent ignoring the need for reforms to Kentucky’s death penalty, the Senate finally accepted the change speaks volumes about the sway that voters have on the laws that finally get enacted.
Without a doubt, the passing of HB-269 is attributed to the 60% of voters (across two polls) who opposed the death penalty for mentally ill convicts. Yet, an undeniable fact is that there will always be senators who will stand by the doctrine of “A life for a Life.”
And they will make this an uphill battle for lawmakers like Webb, who are seeking reforms, and even more so for senators like G. Neal, who seek the abolishment of capital punishment.