Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Halbach's Murderers Would Not Face Death Penalty Under Referendum Definition

The advisory referendum on the death penalty in Wisconsin continues to cruise toward the September ballot. The state Senate approved the referendum 20-13 yesterday and now the Assembly is expected to vote on it shortly.

The death penalty is frequently brought up in states that don't have it after a high-profile murder case, particularly when the victim is a white female. The same thing happened when I was living in Minnesota a couple years ago and 22-year old Dru Sjodin went missing from a shopping mall parking lot.

The high profile case for Wisconsin, of course, is the brutal killing of Teresa Halbach. Her murder was even mentioned on the floor of the Senate when this referendum was being debated.

The Journal-Sentinel notes today that the death penalty will, of course, not be applicable to Halbach's assailants because currently capital punishment is not an option in Wisconsin.

What's interesting is that Halbach's murderers would not face the death penalty under the language of the referendum question, either. The question clearer states "cases involving a person who is convicted of multiple first−degree intentional homicides" (emphasis mine), which would not apply to the assailants in the Halbach case.

Of course, if a death penalty was written into Wisconsin law, it likely would be much broader than the wording of the referendum--but that's really my point. The wording of this referendum is skewed toward the affirmative, which is exactly what the Republican legislators who crafted it anticipated.

A wide margin of victory for the death penalty in this referendum will surely bring about calls for the institution of capital punishment in Wisconsin shortly thereafter. And once on the books, it's a slippery slope toward the broadening and broadening of its application--especially in light of future high profile crimes, which are often hardly representative of the vast majority of cases.

UPDATE: State Senator Alan Lasee proposed an amendment changing the language of the amendment from the plural "multiple homicides" to the singular "homicide." The amendment was approved by the Senate on Tuesday night.

If this was done to put the amendment in closer relation to the Halbach murder case, which is reasonable to conclude, it only reinforces my point about the connection between high profile murder cases and calls for the institution of the death penalty, not to mention the link between these high profile cases and how we structure the application of the death penalty if it was adopted as law. A slippery slope, to say the least.


Blogger RF said...

Actually, Lasee amended the bill so it would apply to single murders after the Halbach case came out.

March 09, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for clarifying.

March 09, 2006  

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