Testimony in Opposition to SB 951 – Expanding the Use of the Death Penalty

Date: March 11, 2024
To: Chairman Luetkemeyer and Members, Senate Judiciary Committee
From: Gwen Smith, Criminal Justice Policy Manager, Empower Missouri
Re: SB 951

As the largest and oldest anti-poverty non-profit in our state, Empower Missouri is committed to improving the quality of life for all Missouri residents through advocacy. Since our inception, Empower Missouri has focused on the criminal justice system and its impacts, including a long history of opposing the death penalty.

Empower Missouri opposes SB 951, which would make two non-homicide crimes eligible for the death penalty. This bill seeks to expand the use of capital punishment, when a majority of Americans have concerns about the fairness of the death penalty and whether it serves as a deterrent against serious crime. It would be a costly step backwards, made in defiance of the precedent set by our highest court. In their 2008 ruling in Kennedy V. Louisiana, the United States Supreme Court held that the death penalty for non-homicide crimes is disproportionate to the crime and violates the 8th amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2021 found that six-in-ten Americans (63%) say the death penalty does not deter people from committing serious crimes, and nearly eight-in-ten (78%) say there is some risk that an innocent person will be executed. In a time where more and more Americans are calling for an end to capital punishment, and 23 states have abolished the practice, Missouri should not be doubling down.

Making additional felonies death penalty eligible does not protect the victims of these crimes. Rather, the long death penalty process causes additional harm to victims: a huge percentage of death cases are overturned requiring new trials, and the appeals process stretches on for decades. Child victims of death penalty cases will be attached to a decades-long process as they grow up with no certainty of a specific outcome. A life sentence is a better alternative to protect victims as well as the public. 

In addition, the death penalty is extremely costly to taxpayers. More than a dozen states have tried to capture the cost of death penalty cases and found evidence that they are up to 10 times more expensive than other comparable cases. Instead of passing legislation to expand the use of the death penalty, Missouri should do a full audit of the death penalty system to fully understand all of the hidden costs of this government program, which spends millions of public safety dollars and does not deter crime.  The State of Missouri’s resources are better spent in trying to protect children from abuse in the first place and making sure those that are abused have access to mental health treatment and continued therapy immediately after the offense. Empower Missouri respectfully asks the committee to oppose SB 951.  Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter. 

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