From Marijuana to the Death Penalty, States Led the Way in 2019 – The Appeal

Political Report

A retrospective on the year that was on criminal justice reform. Seven maps. 16 issues. 50 states.

State legislatures this year abolished the death penalty, legalized or decriminalized pot, expanded voting rights for people with felony convictions, restricted solitary confinement, and made it harder to prosecute minors as adults, among other initiatives.

But criminal justice reform remains an uneven patchwork. States that make bold moves on one issue can be harshly punitive on others. And while some set new milestones, elsewhere debates were meager—and in a few states driven by proposals to make laws tougher.

The Political Report tracked state-level reforms throughout 2019. Today I review the year that was—by theme and with seven maps. And yes, each state shows up.

Death penalty

While the Trump administration is attempting to restart executions, momentum built against the death penalty at the state level. Five states restricted, halted, or repealed the death penalty over a 10-month period that began in October 2018, when the Washington Supreme Court abolished the death penalty and converted the sentences of the people on its death row. 

Then, in March of this year, California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions. Prosecutors can still seek death sentences, though, and people remain on death row. 

New Hampshire abolished the death penalty in May, becoming the 21st state to do so. This was a hard-won victory for death penalty abolitionists, who overcame the governor’s veto with no votes to spare in the Senate thanks to significant gains in the 2018 midterms. 

In June, the New Mexico Supreme Court converted the sentences of the last two people on the state’s death row. (New Mexico abolished the death penalty 10 years ago.)

Finally, in July, Oregon considerably narrowed the list of capital offenses. This is not retroactive, and

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