Reforms Seek To Limit Oregon’s Death Penalty

A new bill passed in the Senate on Tuesday would redefine some crimes once classified as “aggravated murder,” the only crime punishable by death in Oregon, instead trying some of these as first degree murder cases.  

Senate Bill 1013 (SB 1013) passed 18-9 on Tuesday, May 21. Oregon’s death penalty law exists in the state Constitution, not in normal statute, so it can only be overturned by a vote of the people. Instead, lawmakers are seeking to “de-fang” the law by redefining the one crime under which capital punishment is allowed.  

Currently, aggravated murder charges can be brought for a variety of crimes, such as engaging in torture, or killing a law enforcement officer. SB 1013 would restrict aggravated murder to incidents in which two or more people are killed “to intimidate a civilian population or influence a government,” premeditated murder of children (under the age of 14), or killing another inmate while in prison for murder. This change would not be retroactive for those currently on death row. 

Oregon has only executed two people in the past 50 years, and the past two governors have held to a moratorium on executions. Supporters of SB 1013, like its chief sponsor Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) cite the extreme cost of state executions, which a 2016 study claimed was between $800,000 and $1,000,000. 

While the bill’s progress has not generated public energy one way or another, it may ultimately be up to the public to decide. SB 1013 now heads to the House, run by Speaker Tina Kotek, who has stated that capital punishment is an issue that should be voted on by Oregonians, not decided in the legislature. 

By Ian MacRonald