Below is our Chief Lobbyist Gary Daniels’ proponent testimony on House Bill 183. This was delivered to the House Criminal Justice Committee on November 18, 2021.
To Chairman LaRe, Vice Chair Swearingen, Ranking Member Leland, and members of the House Criminal Justice Committee, thank you for this opportunity to provide the following proponent testimony for House Bill 183.
I have included with my testimony three other documents with further information regarding Ohio's death penalty I hope you find useful. These documents provide more detail than I will speak about today regarding county-specific information, botched executions, and exonerees. You have heard from others before me and will hear more after me. The common thread of what proponents are voicing is there is something for everyone to hate about the death penalty. The only question now is whether one of, some of, or all these numerous reasons is enough for Ohio to finally end laws and practices that manage to represent everything flawed with our criminal legal system.
While HB 183 opponents argue the death penalty is necessary because it provides "'justice" all available information and data demonstrates the death penalty has everything to do with geography, race, and income, not justice.
Ohio's Death Row currently includes 132 people. Cuyahoga County has the most people (24) awaiting execution. That county makes up 10.5% of Ohio's population but a little over 18% of Death Row. Hamilton, with 7% of Ohio's population, is next. It represents 13 .6% of Death Row, almost double its percentage of Ohio's population. Lucas County is fourth with 3.6% of Ohio's population but 6.8% of Death Row. At fifth, Trumbull County is the most lopsided of the top five counties. It contains 1.7% of Ohio's population but a whopping 6% of Death Row.
16 Ohio counties have one person on Death Row. 53 have none. Ohio's death penalty is about geography.
We also know if you are black you are far more likely to be convicted of a capital crime and killed by the state than if you are white. This is true in Ohio and across the country. It is also true one is far more likely to be put to death if the victim was white. These are not recent anomalies or statistical aberrations. This has been true as far back as anyone can recall. Ohio's death penalty is about geography and race.
It is not news to this committee, which considers so many mass incarceration issues and bills, and with so many who are attorneys, that how much money one has makes a giant difference with regard to success in court and quality of legal representation. Too often, overworked county public defender offices with limited capacity are tasked with representing someone against a prosecutor's office with more resources and more to spend. Across the system, this frequently resembles David vs. Goliath far more than what fundamental fairness requires, especially when a life is literally on the line. Ohio's death penalty is about geography, race, and income.
Over an 11-12 year period from 2006-2017, Ohio experienced five horribly botched executions, all of which drew statewide, national, and international attention. Our state is simply horrible at carrying out the death process itself. This has repeatedly resulted in unnecessary and cruel pain, suffering, and torture of those Ohio has a constitutional obligation to treat humanely if it is going to legally kill them. Given Ohio's repeated failures in this regard, it is natural and necessary to ask and be concerned with how many more times this will happen.
So far, Ohio has had a shocking eleven exonerations from Death Row. Of course, these are people once thought to have committed a heinous crime Ohio was prepared to kill. Perhaps a single exoneration represents one serious mistake but the system does not need an overhaul. A second exoneration should elicit significantly more concern as it may indicate a pattern of systemic problems. But eleven exonerations is a blaring alarm things are fundamentally wrong and are apparently beyond fixing so long as the death penalty is an option.
Many of the same people who believe government screws up everything it touches or gets involved in are many times the same people convinced the government gets the death penalty 100% correct, all the time, despite all evidence to the contrary. Amid broad claims of government inefficiency, incompetence, overreach, and dishonesty they give the death penalty a free pass.
It is also evident the death penalty provides no deterrence with regard to others' terrible crimes. Michigan lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 1847, 19 years after they executed an innocent person. In 1962, by a 108-3 vote, a state constitutional convention cemented that ban in their constitution. 22 additional states have abandoned the death penalty, with 7 of those bans enacted in just the past 10 years (Virginia, 2021; Colorado, 2020; New Hampshire, 2019; Washington, 2018; Delaware, 2016; Maryland, 2013; Connecticut, 2012).
Most countries across the globe have reached the same point. 107 countries have abolished capital punishment while another 27 countries functionally have, with no executions in the last decade and a pattern of laws and practices indicating none are on the horizon. 54 countries continue with the death penalty, among them Saudi Arabia, China, Afghanistan under Taliban rule, and North Korea. However, even among those 54 countries are indications capital punishment is further waning.
And, again, 53 of 88 Ohio counties currently have no one on Death Row. So, to believe the death penalty provides a deterrence is to argue the counties, states, and countries that execute their people are somehow safer than those that do not. But the data does not indicate that whatsoever.
At HB 183's most recent hearing you even heard Ohio prosecutors repeatedly say the same thing about the death penalty providing no deterrent value.
Geography, race, income, botched executions, exonerations, national and global trends, and no deterrence. There remain no reasons left to support the shrinking practice of capital punishment. The ACLU of Ohio hopes you agree and will support the bipartisan, crucially important House Bill 183.