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A Conversation On Capital Punishment

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LOS SANTOS (WZ) – On July 8th, Governor McKenzie signed H.R. 139 – The Death Penalty Privacy Act and H.R. 138 – The Capital Appeal Act into law. These laws follow the most recent execution of Ella Popadopoulos and intended to give the condemned more leeway in their sentencing, execution, and the legality of both. Initially vetoed as H.R. 133 on June 24th, The Death Penalty Privacy Act was reintroduced as H.R. 139 by State Representative Ryyan Avery (SALP) on June 26th, 2022 with a stated purpose to addressed the rights of the condemned:

The purpose of this bill is to establish ethical options for the death penalty in San Andreas and provides rights to those sentenced to death and their next of kin.

H.R. 139 – The Death Penalty Privacy Act

The “options” mentioned don’t necessarily imply differing methods of executions as the initial proposal sought, but rather options for privacy of the execution itself. Specifically, those permitted to attend the execution shall be victims of the crimes committed,  the family of these victims, the family of the convicted, all and any legal representation, and members of the Judicial and Executive Branch. One member of a selected media outlet is also allowed to attend, but only under strict guidelines. No recording or audio devices are allowed for any party in attendance, regardless of their affiliations.

The Capital Appeal Act was introduced as H.R. 138 by State Representative Avery on June 22th, 2022 and officially signed into law on July 8th, 2022. Similarly to H.R. 139, it aimed to further elaborate and solidify rights for those on death row.

The purpose of this bill is to establish clear outlines for an appeal process to the death penalty in the state of San Andreas.

H.R. 138 – The Capital Appeal Act

The bill gives those sentenced to death the right to appellate review, which allows for another court to overlook the original conviction in the case of misjudgments in the sentencing. The accused will then be protected from execution until the review is complete, creating time to press for an appeal before an execution may be carried out. Two appeals are allowed through any regular court, but another one would need to be requested and accepted by the San Andreas Supreme Court. In the case an appeal is not accepted, however, the bill gives those condemned the right to schedule the date and time of their death.

Both bills are available for personal review on the legislative directory portion of the San Andreas State website. Still, those with questions or concerns are encouraged to reach out to their representatives.

Image Credit: Rhylee Finke

Nonetheless, the passing of Popadopoulos and the new legislation that followed once again revived the age-old discussion of whether or not capital punishment has a place in the modern-day judicial system. There are plenty of people who believe in it, and there are certainly plenty that don’t. In the last few weeks, Weazel News has thoroughly been discussing the death penalty with diverse groups of citizen around San Andreas to obtain a more accurate understanding of the state’s opinion and whether or not it was fairly reflected by the people.

Public Opinion On The Death Penalty

Weazel News put out an inter-month survey on capital punishment on July 12, 2022, which was open for four days. Out of sixty-one anonymous participants, 30% advocated for capital punishment to be abolished while 70% supported the continuation of the death penalty. 

“Society needs to be protected against violent criminals, and the right to live of law-abiding citizens supersedes the “right” of a dangerous, serial criminal, to have chance after chance at leading a productive life,” said one supporter of capital punishment. They mentioned having been involved in an attempted murder and are advocating for the policy to reduce those incidents around the state.

On the other hand, one advocate for abolishment commented that they’d prefer more of a “middle-ground” answer:

Some people are truly undeserving of life, but others shouldn’t have freedom from suffering. Prior death penalties often felt too far for the crimes the people committed. Very few deserve it.

respondent

Many other responses varied, with some acknowledging that people should have the chance to be reformed, or on the other side of the spectrum, as someone bluntly put: “bad people should die”. 

In addition to their standing on capital punishment, all respondents were asked what death penalty methods they were most comfortable with. They were given the option to be as specific as possible, as well as the ability to choose more than one method of execution. While there were outliers (written-in suggestions of hangings and drownings), the most popular choice was lethal injection with 41 mentions. The electric chair and firing squads followed quickly behind with 26 mentions, whereas those uncomfortable with all methods floated by at 11 mentions.

Execution by firing squad is a thing for the older times, I think in the times we live in now, it’s not humane. It’s not humane for the officers, who have to kill this person quite frankly, and it’s not humane for the people who have to see somebody get shot about six times by the officer… It really just calls into question whether or not we’re really adapting to the modern times, this is not something that happens commonly around the United States. Almost every state has adopted either electric chairs or lethal injection. And, I think that it’s time to start following that trend and opt for a more humane solution… a solution that doesn’t put forever a scar on people for what they had to do.

Cyrus hunt

Despite its obvious popularity, lethal injections remain unavailable in the state of San Andreas. In fact, it’s specifically the reason why H.R. 133 was vetoed and why firing squads remain the only option to conduct executions in San Andreas thus far. San Andreas Medical Services mentioned earlier last month that the reasoning for this was due entirely to the contradictory position it puts doctors in, the lack of training medical staff have with the method, as well as the lack of supplies to perform this style of executions.

There is also the belief that lethal injection may prevent further trauma for those unequipped to continuously carry out the death penalty through firing squad (typically done by LEOs). After all, those who handled the injection would theoretically be trained to deal with the emotional impact. At this time there is no indication that lethal injection, or any other method of execution aside from a firing squad, will be made available within the State of San Andreas. 

The State Attorney 

Nonetheless, when the death penalty is sought, prosecutors from the Department of Justice file a “Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty”, making them one of the only agencies in San Andreas that can actively seek the death penalty. The State Attorney, who commands the Department of Justice, is in the unique position of overseeing the prosecution of cases where the death penalty could be applied. In a statement given to Weazel News, State Attorney Joanna Poole expressed her personal opinion on capital punishment.

I believe capital punishment has a place in this city for those who have proven that their continued existence, either within prison or outside, will still result in people being victims of heinous crimes such as torture or murder. If they still have reach from Bolingbroke to encourage others to continue their work of hurting good citizens and their families, I think capital is worth considering. I have looked these people in the eyes, both as a detective and a lawyer. I’ve stood on a firing line. I’ve also witnessed executions be treated as medieval events of entertainment. I believe those who commit these crimes deserve to have their crimes taken seriously, but they are not beyond being treated like fellow humans until the end. It is what separates us from animals. The DOJ has been working closely with other lawyers in the city and legislation to come up to solutions for those who would like to appeal their capital punishment sentencing, and will continue to review our sentencing recommendation practices to determine whether or not someone is truly deserving of such serious sentencing.

Joanna Poole, STATE ATTORNEY

The consideration of capital punishment as sentencing of any crime shall ultimately always come down to judicial discretion. This, however, is always subject to change. Whether or not the death penalty continues to be practiced depends on the Legislature’s future bills and the Governor choosing to ratify any changes.

The Governor

If capital punishment was to seriously be considered for abolishment, the legislation would have to go through Governor Karmen McKenzie. Even if the State Representatives fully supported a bill, she would be the one signing it into law. Of course, there are ways around a Governor’s veto, but the process requires a supermajority within the Legislature. The Governor issued a statement to Weazel News with her stance on the policy:

When asked what my opinion is on the Death Penalty, I know it’s not my opinion that’s actually being requested but an acknowledgment on if I would sign into law any bill that might seek to abolish the Death Penalty. My opinion on the matter is irrelevant in that regard. When I was voted in by the people of this state, I promised to uphold that vote by being their voice. It isn’t my will that I place upon you the people, but the carrying out of your will. If the majority voice of the people is to remove the Death Penalty, then that is a voice I am elected to uphold.

governor karmen mckenzie

If a majority voice is all that’s needed and the inter-month survey is anything to go by, there may be no need for a change in the “people’s will”. Still, if the final decision is dependent on the people of San Andreas, then it’s mostly not carved into stone. Nonetheless, this system in place which permits the usage of the Death Penalty has been recently questioned with the execution of Ella Popadopoulos.

The Case of Ella Popadopoulos

Ella Popadopoulos was sentenced to death by means of a firing squad and executed on June 20th, 2022, a date chosen at her own discretion. This currently makes her San Andreas’ latest execution, with the previous execution having been held several months prior. Her execution occurred less than forty-eight hours following the final verdict of State of San Andreas v. Ella Popadopolous, where she plead guilty to all charges. She was found guilty of the murder of Dallas Cassidy and the attempted murder of Andre Mikaelson, which was further complicated by her “long criminal history of various offenses”, as stated by the court.

This decision was considered somewhat controversial, with several people claiming that Ella Popadopoulos held diminished mental capabilities and should be allowed to get proper assistance. Her attorney, Matt Murdank, advocated strongly on her behalf.

In my professional opinion, it is unconstitutional as a matter of law to sentence to death an individual who is acting under a diminished capacity. The state did not introduce any case law to suggest that Judge Lighten had the authority to find Ella did not have a diminished capacity despite Dr. Kane’s ruling, nor did Judge Lighten offer any authority sua sponte on this issue.

matt murdank, Ella’s Attorney

Judge Lighten politely declined to offer an opinion on the matter as he mentioned to Weazel News, “the opinion of my court is on the public docket”. He did, however, comment on the execution itself:

It is my understanding this was the request of the defendant. I do my best – as does the judiciary system as a whole – to accommodate the needs and wishes of those who we deal with.

judge Dan lighten

Due to the outbreak of cheering at the final verdict of Ella Popadopolous, there was concern her execution would be conducted disrespectfully. There have also been reports of prior executions being held publicly, where mockery of the condemned and harassment of those related to the victims could occur. 

Unfortunately, Popadopoulos was sentenced to death and executed prior to H.R. 139, which would’ve fully guaranteed privacy of her execution by law. But, if luck may have it, that wasn’t necessary. According to eyewitnesses, her execution was actually performed appropriately despite there having been no underlining legislation requiring such conduct. 

Thankfully Sheriff Harte insisted that everyone maintain professional decorum at the execution today. I am thankful for the Sheriff and Chief Davis and their insistence on the procedure – which I still object to – being carried out in a thoughtful manner.

matt murdank, Ella’s Attorney

The Future of Capital Punishment

H.R. 138 and H.R. 139 conclude any current adjustments made to the death penalty policy in San Andreas at this time. Their clear definition for rights of those condemned solved many of the concerns that held about the process, whereas before the ratification of these bills there had been no outline for how capital punishment should and could be conducted. 

Nick Stevens, who works as a prosecutor, spoke with Weazel News to share his personal thoughts on the future of San Andreas’ capital punishment:

We are only as good as we were twenty minutes ago as we are twenty minutes from now, y’know? If any changes are coming, the changes are supported by the people, then more power to the people.

Nick Stevens

Still, there remain several issues that could prompt future changes. For example, the availability of different types of execution, and the introduction of training specifically for conducting executions, rather than pressing officers of the law into it. Even programs to help ease the psychological burden of executing people in the first place are a possibility. Perhaps, if it ever gains the necessary support, the abolishment of capital punishment itself. Legislation is always subject to change, and the sky’s the limit.

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