Utah House votes to speed up execution appeals

Published February 1, 2011 2:12 pm

Crime • Proposed bill would allow only one post-conviction appeal in absence of new evidence.
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The Utah House passed legislation Tuesday that seeks to streamline the process for appealing death sentences.

Pointing to the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner last year, Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, argued that it shouldn't take so long to carry out a death sentence and said his bill tries to expedite the process and ensure innocent people are not executed.

"[HB202 is] designed to recognize that 25 years is too long. That's the time that was taken in the Gardner case," said McIff, a retired judge. "There were four post-conviction appeals filed in the Gardner case, each one determined not to have merit, but each one adding additional years and hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars in additional expense."

Under McIff's bill, after a conviction, a condemned individual could get one post-conviction appeal in which the inmate would have to raise all arguments for having the sentence overturned. It also would be the only appeal with state-paid attorneys.

After that, the only way the condemned inmate could get another appeal would be if new evidence came to light that a judge believed could alter the outcome of the case.

"I don't think that we should consider this bill without recognizing exactly what we're doing," said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, an attorney. "What we're doing is accelerating the process of killing people who have killed people, and we're doing it in the name of the state."

King said he doesn't like the death penalty, but believes McIff's bill is a good effort to find a balance. King was one of five Democrats who voted against the bill, which passed 67-5.

McIff said he negotiated the bill over several months. The Judicial Conference and the Constitutional Revision Commission unanimously endorsed it.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

gehrke@sltrib.com