In a historic move, the Nevada Assembly voted 26-16 to abolish the death penalty, the farthest efforts to end capital punishment have ever advanced in the state.
Assembly Bill 395, which would also convert current death sentences to life without the possibility of parole, will advance to the Senate.
“Now is the right time to end our costly, ineffective and inhumane death penalty,” said Assemblyman Steve Yeager, who sponsored the legislation. “Nevada should join two-thirds of the world’s countries who have already banned the death penalty, many of whom have determined it violates fundamental human rights. Some have concluded the mere seeking of the death penalty is coercive enough to amount to a form of torture. The government simply should not be in the business of death.”
Republican members of the Assembly unanimously opposed the legislation, defending the death penalty as a means of justice in extreme cases.
Criminal justice reform advocates and civil rights groups have been pushing Nevada to end the death penalty for years citing it as inhumane, costly, prone to inaccuracy and disproportionally sentenced to people of color.
Of the 57 people currently on death row in Nevada, 28 are white, 20 are Black, seven are Hispanic, and two Asian American Pacific Islander. While Black people make up about 9 percent of the state’s total population, they are 35 percent of current death row inmates.
District Attorneys offices across the state, including Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, has opposed efforts to end the death penalty.
Two death penalty abolition bills were introduced during the 2019 Legislative Session, but neither received a hearing.
“For the first time a retroactive death penalty abolition bill has passed the Assembly, and we are one step closer to ending this racist, barbaric practice,” said ACLU of Nevada Policy Director Holly Welborn. “Now the Senate needs to take heed. The fight is only just beginning, and we will not rest until this bill is sent to the Governor’s desk.”
Nevada hasn’t executed anyone since 2006. The state tried, and failed, to execute Scott Dozier in 2017. A legal battle of the drugs being used to kill Dozier resulted in the execution being postponed until he finally died by suicide in 2019.
In his floor speech Tuesday, Yeager argued capital punishment is not only needlessly costing the state millions — a legislative audit previously found each case where the death penalty was sought costs an additional half million dollars — but also deprives victim’s families of “the legal finality they are promised and they expect.”
“The death penalty is the epitome of an expensive government program that over promises and under delivers,” Yeager said.