Death Penalty Revision to Be Heard at State Capitol
PIERRE, S.D. – The severely mentally ill would not be executed for committing a capital crime in South Dakota if a bill is passed by the state legislature this year and becomes law.
South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is behind the bill. The advocacy group's director, Dennis Davis, says the bill would allow a judge to order life in prison rather than execution if a person convicted of a capital crime has an intellectual disability or is found to be severely mentally ill when the crime occurred.
Davis maintains there are more effective ways to punish people who commit horrific crimes.
"When we execute someone, on their death certificate, the manner of death is checked off as homicide,” he points out. “The doctor will check it as homicide. It is state-sponsored homicide, and is that the kind of people that we are? And that's always the question that I ask. I think we're better than that."
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, three males have been executed in South Dakota.
The House State Affairs Committee is scheduled to hear the bill on Wednesday.
Death penalty cases typically cost 10 times more than a first degree murder case, or an average of $1 million more per case than life imprisonment.
Davis says when you take the politics and emotion out of the death penalty, it no longer makes sense.
"Actually, in 2017 and 2016 were two of the lowest execution years since 1976, when it was brought back by the Supreme Court, so consciousness is raising throughout the United States, I think South Dakota also," he points out.
Davis' group has previously brought bills to completely repeal the South Dakota death penalty without success.
He says the justice system is not perfect, and far too many innocent people end up on death row.
"There's been 160 since 1976 that have been exonerated from death row,” he stresses. “They were innocent. Some spent as much as 30, 40 years on death row."
South Dakota is one of 32 states that still has the death penalty on the books, while 18 have abolished it. There are currently three men on death row.