SB 94 An Act to repeal the death penalty.

Senate Bill 94

Sponsors: Senators Rusch, Bradford, Buhl O’Donnell, Frerichs, Heinert, Hunhoff (Bernie), Parsley, Peterson (Jim), and Sutton and Representatives Johns, Bartling, Bordeaux, Conzet, Deutsch, Feickert, Heinemann (Leslie), Holmes, Killer, Kirschman, Ring, Schoenbeck, Schoenfish, Soli, and Steinhauer

Purpose: repeal the death penalty.

Well, there’s what could be one of the controversial bills this session.

I see friends and people I support on the sponsor list, and I’m sure there’s a ton of those on the other side who are going to fight it.  Where am I on the measure? I don’t know that those who propose repealing it have made a convincing case why it’s application in South Dakota is unjust. At least, not sufficiently to convince others that it is time to repeal it.

Art Rusch, having presided over a Death Penalty case as judge certainly can speak with authority to it. But, in South Dakota, our application of it is used so sparingly, and so rarely, I’m not sure how the proponents of the measure can say that we do it in any way wrong in South Dakota.  We’re not like Florida or Texas.  We’ve had 3 executions since 1976, and I believe there’s 3 on death row at the moment. I don’t think we underthink these very weighty sentences.

I believe that the death penalty should be applied sparingly, and only for the most heinous crimes. And I think we currently meet that test.

This isn’t one of those issues where I think the sponsors are a pack of wild eyed liberals. (At least most of them). There are some very moral people who object to it. But as I said, I’m not sure the time has arrived when they can win this one.

Where are you on the bill to repeal the Dealth penalty in the state?  Yea or nay?

33 thoughts on “SB 94 An Act to repeal the death penalty.

  1. AC

    Pat, aren’t you Catholic? What aspect of Catholic doctrine on this do you disagree with? I don’t mean that to be disrespectful or judgmental in any way. I’m just curious. I’m Catholic as well, and while I understand that my faith doesn’t always align with my politics, in this area I follow the Church’s teaching of protecting life from conception to natural death.

  2. Anonymous

    I would say the people sentenced to the death penalty have forfeited their right to a natural death..

    Kill this bill…

        1. Anon

          That was poorly worded, there’s no such thing as a right to death. But it doesn’t change the fact that Catholic teaching states that no one gets to take a life. Our life is given to us by God and can only be taken by God.

          1. Anonymous

            — But it doesn’t change the fact that Catholic teaching states that no one gets to take a life.

            That’s not Catholic teaching.

  3. Link

    Lynchings were once public, and served as a great deterrent to those pursuing a path of crime. Sadly, we do not broadcast executions anymore, and their impact is minimal. The death penalty should be upheld, and we should broadcast the death in order to get the most we can out of it.

  4. Anonymous

    If you want to chip away at the culture of death in society this is a good start.

    DP is not a deterrent as most violent crimes are drug/alcohol induced so people aren’t in a rational state of mind to consider consequences.

  5. Anonymous

    The death penalty is a deterrent in that a person who has been executed tends not to commit more crimes.

  6. Steve Hickey

    Glad this is going forward. Lots of minds have changed in the last few years, conservative minds. Lots. The death penalty is the anti-thesis of limited government and it is not fiscally conservative.

    Very glad that my successor Rep Steinhauer is a co-sponsor. Pro-life people need to be consistent and not tie the sanctity of human life to anything; degree of development, level of dependancy, disability or depravity. This is where pro-life values really get put to the test— are we for the life of those who least deserve it, or not?

    It doesn’t taking killing a person to bring closure on a violent death. With the growing margin of error – 5 exonerations last year – we can’t eliminate the appeals process, and shouldn’t. And so the death penalty only delays the closure process – for decades.

    We have 55 inmate years of people on death row with no notable write-ups for behaviour – that means we CAN house dangerous people safely. The fact of the matter is the most dangerous people aren’t even on death row and we aren’t advocating killing them to make prisons safe.

    This is about what we do, not what they’ve done. Time we make a huge philosophical shift in our corrections system to introduce people there to their dignity as human beings rather just beat them down further punishing their depravity. Life in prison is excruciating enough and therefore it is possible to take away their life without taking away their lives.

    Additionally, to quote my late friend Pat Duffy who helped us on this issue, a death eligible case smears everyone in the system forever— “it’s like swimming through a pool of shit, you never get the stink off you.” Jurists who need counselling, attorneys in third marriages, judges who retire early, etc. For what? To execute some sort of institutionalised vengeance?

    Time to communicate to our kids that killing is never okay (not referring to war, that’s another matter). I’m referring to the execution of a defenceless person. It’s immoral for the same reason executing prisoners of war is immoral. Once the threat is contained and neutralised, it is immoral to kill them.

    1. Anonymous

      –Time to communicate to our kids that killing is never okay (not referring to war, that’s another matter).

      War is another matter because no one is ever killed in war???

      That’s soooo morally clear!

      I like that!

      Let’s try it some more:

      Rape is never okay (not referring to war, that’s another matter!)

      Torture is never okay (not referring to war, that’s another matter!)

      “Killing” in self-defense is never okay (not referring to war, that’s another matter!)

      Using drones to murder US citizens in Yemen without charge, trial, conviction or appeal is never okay (not referring to when Obama does it, that’s another matter!)

      I really like that clear, moral thinking! “Never” is never really never!

      –Once the threat is contained and neutralised (sic), it is immoral to kill them.

      Unless you are in charge of monitoring, guarding, feeding, clothing, cleaning, and protecting inmates–THEN the threat is REAL & EVER PRESENT!

      But folks like Rev. Hickey never have to think about such unpleasant things.

      — It’s immoral for the same reason executing prisoners of war is immoral.

      But you said that war was another matter–which is it???

  7. The other Steve

    “The death penalty is the anti-thesis of limited government and it is not fiscally conservative.”

    Your payday loan ballot measure is also the opposite of limited government.

  8. Anonymous

    Once again, the intellectually and morally lazy have resorted to this mantra that an execution is a “killing”.

    It is not.

    ALL citizens have rights to self-defense and justice. Some believe these rights are God-given, others believe in a social contract.

    As St. Paul wrote:

    Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.
    Romans 13:1-4

    If you are evil, be afraid.


    1. Steve Hickey

      I share your view that a careful reading of the Biblensettles this issue. Please look past the one verse (a flawed reading of it) that you base your stance on.

      How did God handle the first murderer, Cain? He banished him from the community and made sure nobody laid a finger on him. Continue on in Scripture and you find God continually relenting, when people deserved no mercy he showed it.

      Here’s another way to read your predictable Romans 13 proof text.

      1. Anonymous

        The NT is a new covenant–any pastor worth his salt would know that.

        Here’s another way to read Romans that’s actually biblically-based:

        If you do evil things, be afraid

        Sorry, I trust the Bible more than some erratic “interpreter” of that Bible.

          1. Anonymous

            Yes, Christ FULFILLED the OT and the prophets. That’s the New Covenant. Hebrews 8:7-13.

            NO one claimed that He came to “replace” the OT.

            You can “interpret” all you want, but serious Christians use the bible.

  9. Troy Jones

    There are two logic fallacies which often infect discussions of present days and application of Scripture.

    Presentism: historical analysis in which present-day ideas, such as moral standards, are projected into the past.

    Historians fallacy: assumes that decision makers of the past viewed events from the same perspective and having the same information as those subsequently analyzing the decision.


    1) Everyone compares slavery of 2,000 years ago through the prism of slavery prior to the Civil War. The reality is ancient slavery was much closer to employer-employee relationship than American slavery of the 18th century. Granting “freedom” was comparable to “firing” except too often the freed person only options were to become a beggar or bandit. If the person was educated and granted freedom (not “fired”), the former “employer” was expected to give them land, dowry, etc. and have educated them. It was considered unjust to grant freedom otherwise.

    2) In the Old West, it was not only within your rights but one was expected to shoot a person dead if you caught them stealing your horse. It was considered just not because of the crime being done but the consequences to one’s family if their horse was stolen- they might die or their family suffer extreme hardship.

    3) While we rightly condemn the treatment of women in modern Muslim cultures, we also right rightly give a pass to the Indian culture of the past when Chiefs could not only trade his daughter to get peace with a rival tribe but he could sell a daughter of one of his warriors.

    I don’t hear many people using the Bible to justify slavery. I don’t hear people invoking the Old West to assert a farmer should be free to shoot a cattle rustler. I don’t hear any Indians wanting to preserve their historical culture saying it includes allowing Tribal Presidents to be able to sell women like goods.

    Whether from Biblical times didn’t evolve or from the frontier (white or Indian), people haven’t evolved but the cultures did, the nature of employer-employee did, the prevalence and capability of law enforcement did, and the treatment of women did.

    While I don’t question whether we should respect in general our government and our leaders, I do think we always have a right to petition to change our government.

    While I don’t question that the death penalty was appropriate (and just/justified) in the past, it doesn’t mean it may not be appropriate today.

    While I don’t question that our Constitution allows both the federal and state governments to have a death penalty, it doesn’t mean they should.

    Yes there are multitudes of examples in Scripture where there was a call for justice, retribution, vengeance etc. But, in almost all cases there was a subsequent sadness because of a heartfelt recognition there should have been a better way. That is how David’s reaction to the death of Saul and especially to Saul’s son Jonathan even though they were at war.

    And, despite all those calls for justice, retribution etc, how many more calls are there for Mercy, forgiveness? One of the common lessons of the great Saints or Rabbis is to not focus on what giving mercy to the wrongdoer does for the wrongdoer but to always remember and focus on what being merciful and forgiving does to the forgiver/Mercygiver.

    Asserting Justice too often is grasping at the power of God while giving Mercy is an imitating Jesus. (Note the difference in just the words “asserting” and “giving”)

    I can rationalize the death penalty with my mind. I can read Scripture and justify the death penalty. But, everytime I’ve ever taken this to the recesses of my heart/soul, my opposition to the death penalty only gets stronger.

    That said, I don’t condemn those who support the death penalty. Maybe they haven’t taken it to their heart yet. Maybe their heart tells them something different.

    Whether it be on demanding Justice or wanting Mercy, whether it be giving your government the power to kill its citizens or denying them this power, it is most likely an excruciating decision. It is at least for me.

  10. Anonymous

    There’s a sickness in morality and ethics (and religion) called, “moral relativism”. It’s not a fallacy. It’s not a matter of logic. It’s a disease.

    A disease who intent is to kill universal Truth and meaningful Tradition and valuable Culture. Christianity is particularly susceptible to this disease. Popes Benedict and JPII warned that this disease of moral relativism is one of the most significant problems facing that faith, as well as contemporary morals since moral relativism denies the ability of the human mind and soul to ever know Truth, and thus Untruth (sin). Moral relativism transforms this search for Truth into the devolutionary abyss of secularism or humanism. Lamentations of mercy for the merciless, or justice for the unjust, is a sure indication that the Truth has been discarded for the muddy Untruth.

    Refusing to apply yesterday’s morality to today is a form of this disease of moral relativism roundly condemned by moralists and religious leaders for centuries.

    We seem to be confusing morality with mores–but that’s what the disease creates: confusion. The murder of innocents is equated with the just execution of the murderer for example.

    Morality, not mores.

  11. Troy Jones

    Moral relativism: morality is changeable; subjective; and individual. In other words, no morality is superior to another.

    For something to be moral it must include and contemplate these principles which allow us to analyze complex moral situations and then act in specific situations. Specificity of the situation matters. For example, it is almost always immoral to lie. However, if you have a Jew in your attic and a Nazi asks you if you have a Jew in your attic, the moral act is to say you do not (not tell the truth) because telling the truth violates a specific superior moral act (pledge to keep the Jew’s location secret) and superior moral good (protecting the life of the innocent).

    1) Beneficence: Doing good and avoiding evil.

    2) Nonmaleficence: Doing no harm. Often in moral situations, it is to keep in mind the person’s greater human dignity and not do or act in a way that will diminish their dignity in their eyes. A common example is not answering directly and telling the absolute, unvarnished truth if your wife asks if a dress makes her butt look big.

    3) Double effect: This is where one weighs the reality some actions are good in and of themselves but there may be adverse consequences. For example, giving to the poor is a good action but if it destroys independence and their human dignity, it is an immoral act.

    Similarly, there is the opposite commonly said “ends don’t justify the means” or one can’t do evil even if it achieves a good end.

    4) Tolerance: This principle isn’t the common notion we are called to accept immorality or immoral acts. This is where “moral relativism” raises its head. This principle is, while abhorring evil or evil acts, we understand we can’t eliminate evil from this fallen world and sometimes have to tolerate living in the tension such that not acting may be moral. An example would be it wouldn’t be morally permissible to lock up a married friend who one knows is about to commit adultery. Maybe it would be morally permissible to inform the spouse. Maybe because of the harm it might do to the children #2/#3, the moral thing is to do nothing more than pray.

    In short, good and evil are absolute. Ethics is the science derived from the absolute of forming principles of right and wrong behavior (and non-behavior). And, morality is the application of ethical principles in specific situations.

    It once was legal and moral to hang a person on the spot for stealing a horse. It no longer is legal and moral to do so. Good and evil didn’t change. Ethics with regard to good and evil behavior didn’t change. But the specifics did.

    Similarly, death penalty proponents assert it is moral in the case of heinous crimes. But, they don’t assert it is moral in all cases of heinous crimes as they acknowledge the specifics of the situation are factors in the morality. Heck, in the past the death penalty was applied in non-heinous situations (even adultery).

    And, there are situations where it was allowed in the past (horse thievery) they don’t endorse it today. Specifics are different today than in the past.

    Thus, asserting the death penalty should be abolished isn’t an assertion of a change of good or evil or a change in ethics. Or that good and evil are relative. Or that ethics are relative. Those are immutable. What at least this death penalty opponent asserts is the situation has changed.

    1) We can lock up these people more effectively than we could in the past.
    2) We can respond with more mercy than we could in the past.

    And, we believe we should.

  12. Anonymous

    And the Disease spreads…

    Pope JPII: Moral relativism is a denial of Truth, that leads to a denial of the possibility of sin and of God.

    In other words, one cannot be a Believer (Catholic in particular) and subscribe to moral relativism.

    I place my intellectual foundations with Pope JPII (and reiterated by Benedict), and centuries of Christian theology.

  13. Anonymous

    JPII’s Veritatis Splendor is s good place to begin when discussing moral relativism vis-a-vis Christian/Catholic theology–describing moral relativism as the greatest threat to freedom in the west.

    JPII discusses, then condemns through cogent argument, the aforementioned “presentism” as another tentacle of the moral relativism disease.

  14. Troy Jones

    Hilarious- Referencing JPII and the Church and claiming what I wrote as moral relativism. Are you calling JPII and the Church moral relativists?

    Note the last paragraph of 2267 is essentially how I closed what I wrote:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

    If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

    Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

    Further, JPII’s words on the death penalty:

    “May the death penalty, an unworthy punishment still used in some countries, be abolished throughout the world.” (Prayer at the Papal Mass at Regina Coeli Prison in Rome, July 9, 2000).

    “A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.” (Homily at the Papal Mass in the Trans World Dome, St. Louis, Missouri, January 27, 1999).

    And, finally from Para. 56 of Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), an encyclical letter on various threats to human life which Pope John Paul II issued on March 25, 1995.

    “This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence.”(46) Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.(47)

    It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

    In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: ‘If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.'”

    P.S. My comments are exactly the opposite of presentism. I don’t assert the application of the death penalty is the past was either unjust or immoral because the specifics were different then. I only assert the specifics of the American correction system is sufficient to protect society and thus “bloodless means” are now appropriate. And, to assert my words are somehow presentism also is an assertion JPII’s statement in an encyclical & that of the Catechism is presentism.

    Methinks that assertion might be grave matter for a Catholic.

  15. Anonymous

    “Presentism” is clearly a form of moral relativism that JPII addresses, argues against and condemns in Veritatis Splendor

    In other words, one cannot be a Believer (Catholic in particular) and subscribe to moral relativism. Sorry but that’s the reality…hilarious or otherwise. I’m not sure what you wrote or meant–my posts had little if anything to do with that… but stalk away.

    Veritatis Splendor–fell free to read it or not.

    As for his views on the DP, I never addressed that.

  16. Anonymous

    Death Row Violence:

    San Quentin, 1989

    The battle reached its height last October when Tiequon A. Cox, who was in the Rolling 60s faction of the Crips in Los Angeles, stabbed and wounded Stanley (Tookie) Williams, a body builder who helped found the gang 20 years ago.

    San Quentin, 2001:
    Of the 85 Grade B inmates, 45 have been involved in assaults or attempted assaults on guards in the last year, officials say. They have slashed the wrists of guards with crude, homemade razors; thrown spears fashioned from paper clips; kicked guards; and increased the number of ”gassings” — throwing stored, fermented feces and urine in an officer’s face — officials say

    Ohio, 2011

    Dean was convicted of attempted escape and vandalism for throwing a chair through the ballistics glass window of the Clark County Jail last spring. A cell search in the Madison Correctional Facility in 1995 turned up a handmade knife Dean admitted to making. In 2004, guards confiscated a 18-inch piece of metal sharpened to look like a sword that Dean taped to his arm while in the recreation yard.
    In addition, Dean was documented for numerous assaults against other inmates dating back to the early 1990s.
    There’s no question at the Clark County prosecutor’s office, Wilson said, that “as long as he’s breathing,” Dean is a danger.
    “Even being locked up he’s still a danger to everyone he comes into contact with,” Wilson said.

    Texas, 2014

    As with the inmates themselves, officers are under constant threat of violence. In 2013, only three incidents involving exposure to bodily fluids by death-row inmates were reported to the TDCJ’s Emergency Action Center, the division that gathers information regarding potential risks to the agency. In 2012 there were ten. But inmates throw sour milk and other liquid at staff on an almost weekly basis. Dave says this happened to him many times.
    Luckily, serious staff assaults resulting in injuries that require treatment beyond first aid are few and far between. In 2013 and 2012, there were just two involving a death-row inmate. In 2011 and 2010, there were three each year.
    Inmates often set fires using paper and other flammable items—even ground-up Tylenol. After setting the items on fire, they typically throw them at officers. Inmates have even been able to start fires by sticking pencil led or razor blades in sockets.

    and on and on….

    I’ll believe the sincerity of death penalty opponents once they get a job (or volunteer to ) working on death row.

    Until then, justice demands that society protects itself from this ongoing violence. Christ expects that we protect each other. Christ does not expect that we subject ourselves to suicide in order to follow Him. The people who work on death row or guard violent criminals deserve justice and deserve to be protected just as much as those who died or were raped or were assaulted by these violent criminals. Christ cares for ALL of us, including our brothers & sisters working in these dangerous situation–their blood is our blood. Blood shed unjustly is Unjust, says Christ. Stand up for justice. Stand up for Christ and righteousness. Stand up for the death penalty.

    “If you do evil things, be afraid.”

    –St. Paul in Romans

  17. Troy Jones

    1) I do not subscribe to moral relativism. Good and evil are absolute Truths. Ethics are the principles from which right and wrong can be discerned which is absolute. Morality is the right application of Truth and ethics in the specific situation. Name one statement of mine that is morally relativistic.

    2) My Church teaches in the Catechism “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” And my Church said in an encyclical (Moral Teaching) the virtual same thing. And finally, Pope JPII said “I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.” I’m quite comfortable taking my lead from the Catechism, an encyclical and a declared Saint and ignoring the theological advice from a blog poster.

    3) We could make our police officers safer by banning all guns. We could make our prison guards safer by executing all violent criminals or locking the entire prison population in their cells 24/7. But we don’t because it would be immoral under the “double effect” principle of Morality. In this world, we can’t guarantee absolute safety to anyone and we regretfully ask some people in law enforcement to place themselves in harm’s way.

    4) How many death row prison guards have died at the hands of a death row inmate in the last 10 years? None. How many of the 350 people executed were innocent? We don’t know for sure but we do know that 1.6% of those sentenced to death have been giving full exoneration. Unless you think the justice system is perfect, we kill more innocent people than prison guards who lose their life. By the way, being a prison guard is safer than being a highway patrolman.

    5) Similar to your argument that people can’t oppose drug testing for TANF recipients unless they prove to you they sufficiently volunteer to help the poor, your argument one can only be sincere death penalty opponents if they volunteer on death row is as foolish as to assert a sincere death penalty proponent is one who is willing to pull the switch. I have an aunt who does volunteer for prison ministry working with people who are getting out (I think she starts working with those who are three years from release and sticks with them until release). The rigorous criteria to be approved to do that probably eliminates a large percentage of the population. I am pretty sure the criteria to get near a death row inmate is even harder (maybe impossible unless one is a minister and/or trained counselor. Because you can’t volunteer to pull the switch, your placing a requirement for credibility on others you can’t fulfill yourself (pull the switch) is a logic fallacy known as “argumentum ad ignorantiam.”