past state campaigns for death penalty abolition
The death penalty is currently a legal punishment in the United States, though 20 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico have banned the inhumane practice. All of our work is aimed at abolition on a federal level, as well as passing state-by-state legislation to outlaw the death penalty.
Witness to Innocence members have played an instrumental role in ending the death penalty in:
New Jersey, 2007
New Mexico, 2009
New Hampshire, 2019
We also worked tirelessly in Nebraska, where the state legislature passed a repeal in 2015 but a referendum campaign and popular vote reinstated the death penalty in 2016.
WTI members worked hard in California fighting on behalf of Proposition 34 in 2012, Proposition 62 in 2016, and against Proposition 66 in 2016.
In 2018, WTI participated in efforts which led to a legislative victory in New Hampshire, where state Senate and House of Representatives legislators voted to repeal the death penalty; unfortunately, the action failed due to a gubernatorial veto. But we did not giving up -- in January 2019, we collaborated with the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and ACLU of New Hampshire at an event where exoneree Sabrina Butler-Smith was the featured speaker. Our hard work paid off when New Hampshire abolished the death penalty on May 30, 2019.
Victory in Colorado
Together with national and state partners, Witness to Innocence exoneree voices helped to influence the end of the death penalty in Colorado. On January 30, 2020, Colorado abolished the death penalty, shortly after WTI conducted workshops on wrongful convictions for several Colorado counties’ judicial offices, and after exoneree spoke at events organized by local partners on the ground.
SPOTLIGHT ON WASHINGTON
Prior to Washington’s recent repeal of the death penalty in October 2018, Witness to Innocence was highly involved in state efforts for abolition. In 2017, exonerees Sabrina Butler-Smith and Randal Padgett conducted a state-wide speaking tour that reached hundreds of thousands of people and helped encourage Washington’s legislature and judiciary to reconsider the morality and legality of capital punishment.
In early 2018, Kirk Bloodsworth toured the state speaking to lawmakers and at public events, sharing his story as the first American to be exonerated due to DNA evidence and discussing the fatal flaws of our death penalty system. Bloodsworth’s work throughout Washington helped convince the State Senate’s Law & Justice Committee to send a death penalty abolition bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote. In March, The Seattle Times published an op-ed penned by Bloodsworth focusing public and political attention in Washington on the issue of innocence and capital punishment.
In September 2018, WTI conducted an Accuracy & Justice workshop at the Washington State 60th Annual Judicial Conference, where exonerees conversed with judges from every level of the Washington judiciary system about the root causes of wrongful capital convictions.
Just weeks later on October 11, 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional. While WTI was part of a collaborative effort with myriad other organizations, attorneys, and activists, the contribution by exonerated death row survivors was a decisive factor in abolishing the death penalty in Washington.