Death penalty on ballot

By Katrina Goforth -

Less than a month from general elections on Nov. 8, state questions, presidential candidates and local election candidates will be on the ballot.

State Question 776 deals with the addition of a section to the Oklahoma Constitution that establishes mandates relating to the death penalty and methods of execution.

If approved, the section would empower the Oklahoma Legislature to designate any method of execution not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution and distinguish between method of execution and the death penalty.

Capital punishment has been an established law in Oklahoma since 1804 when Congress made the laws of the United States applicable to the territory attained in the Louisiana Purchase. Legal codes dictated that “willful murder” carried the death penalty.

Presently, there are five methods of capital punishment not prohibited by the U.S. Government: lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, firing squad and hanging.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty was unconstitutional as then administered, and states began attempting to enact constitutional penalty statutes. In 1976, Oklahoma legislators approved the reinstatement of capital punishment with a vote of 45 to 1.

State Question 776 would also prevent the reduction of a sentence based on a ruling of an invalid execution method and ensure the sentence would remain in force until it can be carried out using a valid method.

Also on the ballot, if approved State Question 790 would remove Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits the government from using public money or property for the direct or indirect benefit of any religion or religious institution.

This effort to remove Article 2, Section 5 began when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments Monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol is an unconstitutional use of public property in Prescott v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission.

But the removal of Article 2, Section 5, comes after Oliver v. Hofmeister that challenged the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships that use public money to provide students with disabilities the opportunity to attend private schools, including those with a religious focus. The Oklahoma Supreme Court did not find such scholarships in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.

By Katrina Goforth

Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.

Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.

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