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Bill passes to restore Idaho death penalty

©Associated Press
February 6, 2003

BOISE, Idaho -- State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would restore Idaho's death penalty, which was overturned last year by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The measure, adopted overwhelmingly by the state Senate, passed the House 58-12. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has indicated he will sign it.

The bill turns the sentencing decision in death penalty cases over to juries and requires a life prison sentence without parole in capital murder cases where the death sentence is not imposed.

The Supreme Court last June overturned death sentence laws in Idaho and four other states in which juries determined defendants' guilt or innocence and judges alone decided their punishment. The court held that such sentences violate defendants' constitutional right to a trial by jury.

The bill passed Wednesday would apply the new sentencing procedure to any of the 21 current death row inmates if their sentences are overturned because they were imposed by a judge. A case pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may decide if people sentenced under the previous rules must be resentenced.

Since Idaho's death penalty was reinstated in 1977, only one man has been executed. One death row inmate was freed after being cleared by DNA evidence.

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