On a map of the United States that marks in red the states in which the death penalty is legal, New Hampshire appears as though a solitary island of red amid a sea of blue (indicating non-death penalty states.) The Granite State is one of just 19 states (and the only state northeast of West Virginia) to employ the death penalty. At present just one person sits on death row in New Hampshire, a man by the name of Michael Addison, who was sentenced after killing a police officer in 2008. There is no execution facility in the state. Despite having been on the books for decades, no one has been executed in the state since 1939.
A 2008 poll in the Monitor found that at least 57% of those polled were in support of the death penalty. Thirty-nine percent were in favor of life imprisonment without parole while 4% remained uncertain. Despite being little more than a theoretical deterrent than an actual, frequently sentenced penalty, New Hampshire lawmakers are trying once again to repeal the death penalty in the state. The repeal may prove more symbolic as its tangible results will be largely imperceptible to the public – the one man who currently awaits execution would still be executed even if it is repealed. At the very least, it may engender at least some peace of mind for those accused of crimes in New Hampshire and who are currently eligible for the death penalty.
Two previous efforts to repeal the penalty have failed with a tied Senate vote each time.“On average, it costs about $5 million to do a total death penalty appeals process and all the stuff that goes with it,” said Representative Bob Giuda, a sponsor of the bill. “That’s one significant reason.” Senate Bill 593 appears it will make it through the Senate this time; it has the support of 13 out of 24 senators.
Offenses Eligible for the Death Penalty in New Hampshire
Capital punishment is only authorized as a punishment for capital murder. These offenses include knowingly causing the death of:
- A sheriff or deputy sheriff, state trooper, constable or police officer of a city or town, correctional officer, probation-parole officer, conservation officer, judge or similar person, state or local prosecutor acting in the line of duty or in retaliation for their job.
- Another before, after, while engaged or attempting to commit a kidnapping.
- Another after conspiring with a third to commit a contract killing.
- Another after being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
- Another before, after, while engaged or attempting to commit aggravated felonious sexual assault.
- Another before, after, while engaged in the commission of, or while attempting to commit robbery.
- Another before, after, while engaged or attempting to commit a drug offense.
However, eight individuals have been charged with capital murder since the last execution in the late 1930s. Excepting current death row inmate Michael Addison, none received the death penalty. In at least two cases, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled the penalty was unconstitutional and the sentences were overturned as a result.
How is Someone Sentenced to The Death Penalty in New Hampshire?
A variety of criteria must be met in order to sentence someone to the death penalty in the Granite State. The person must commit capital punishment as it is defined under the law and the prosecution must prove it. The prosecution must explicitly seek it as the desired penalty for the person’s offense; the jury must be unanimous in its decision to hand down the sentence.
For most criminal cases in New Hampshire, the death penalty does not apply.