Capital punishment, or the death penalty, has been a controversial topic in the United States for decades. New York State, which was once known for its use of capital punishment, has undergone significant changes in recent years regarding the death penalty. While the state still retains the death penalty on the books, it has not executed anyone since 1963 and abolished it in law in 2007. However, discussions about reinstating the death penalty have resurfaced in recent years, leaving many to wonder about the current status of New York’s capital punishment laws. This Eastcoastlaws.com article will explore the history and current state of New York capital punishment laws, the arguments for and against the death penalty, and the potential future of this contentious issue in the Empire State.
Does New York Still Have The Death Penalty?
No, the death penalty is not enforced in New York. When Governor David Paterson signed a measure removing the state’s capital punishment act, the death penalty was abolished in New York State.
The risk of murdering innocent individuals, the enormous cost of death penalty trials and appeals, and the uneven administration of the death sentence across various racial and socioeconomic categories all played a role in the decision to abolish the death penalty.
No one has received a death sentence in New York since the death penalty was abolished there. In actuality, New York State’s final execution occurred in 1963, a long time before the death penalty was formally abolished.
There are still certain states in the United States that permit the use of the death sentence, even though New York does not. Nonetheless, the usage of the death sentence has decreased recently, with fewer executions occurring annually and fewer states allowing its application.
The usage of the death sentence has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with many individuals claiming that it is an unfair punishment and ought to be completely eliminated. Some contend that extremely terrible acts, such as mass murder or terrorism, call for the death sentence.
In any event, it is evident that New York has decided to do away with the death penalty, and it seems unlikely that this decision will be reversed very soon. The application of the death penalty will probably remain a contentious issue as society develops.
A Brief History Of New York’s Capital Punishment Laws
As of 2007, the death penalty was abolished in New York (the state actually has abolished and reinstated capital punishment multiple times in its history).
In 1984, eleven years after the U.S. Supreme Court revived the practice, the state put an end to all executions. In 1995, Governor George Pataki brought it back and used lethal injection as the method of execution. However, the New York Court of Appeals declared it unlawful, which led to the suspension of executions.
The death sentence is now unofficially prohibited after a 2007 law revision. Since the death penalty was abolished, life in prison without the possibility of parole became the harshest punishment in New York.
Why Did New York Abolish The Death Penalty?
New York abolished the death penalty in 2007 following a long and contentious debate. There were several reasons why the state ultimately chose to eliminate capital punishment, including concerns about the fairness and effectiveness of the death penalty, as well as the high cost and potential for wrongful convictions.
One of the main factors that led to the abolition of the death penalty in New York was the growing recognition of its potential to put innocent people at risk. The state had seen several high-profile cases in which individuals were wrongfully convicted and later exonerated, including the infamous Central Park Five case in which five teenagers were falsely accused and convicted of a brutal rape in 1989. As more evidence came to light about the prevalence of wrongful convictions, there was a growing sense that the death penalty posed too great a risk to innocent lives.
Another major concern was the high cost of capital trials and appeals, which often took years and cost millions of dollars to complete. Critics argued that these resources could be better spent on other crime prevention and law enforcement efforts. In addition, studies had shown that the death penalty was not an effective deterrent to crime and that it had little impact on rates of violent crime or murder.
There were also concerns about the racial and socioeconomic disparities in the application of the death penalty. In New York, as in many other states, people of color and those from low-income backgrounds were disproportionately sentenced to death, leading to accusations of bias and discrimination.
Ultimately, after years of debate and controversy, New York State lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty in 2007. Since then, the state has focused on other forms of punishment for serious crimes, including life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. While the decision was not without its critics, it reflected a growing recognition of the flaws and shortcomings of the death penalty and a commitment to building a more just and equitable criminal justice system.
When Was The Last Person Executed In New York state?
Eddie Mays, who was killed in the electric chair on August 15, 1963, was the last person to die via lethal injection in the state of New York. In 1962, a 22-year-old woman was raped and murdered in Brooklyn, and Mays was found guilty of both crimes. At the Sing Sing Correctional Complex in Ossining, New York, he was put to death.
Mays and two accomplices, Jose Sanchez-Fernandez, 30, and David Johnson, 34, held up the Friendly Tavern at 1403 Fifth Avenue in East Harlem on March 23, 1961. Mays commanded the proprietor and the customers to deposit their money in the bar. But, Maria Marini, 31, infuriated Mays because witnesses claimed she was too slow to comply. Mays held a.38 caliber handgun to her forehead and pulled the trigger, instantly murdering her after seeing that her purse was empty. During the robbery, the group took $275 in total from the bartender and a number of patrons.
He and other defense attorneys had persuaded the prosecution to negotiate an arrangement lowering his charge to second-degree murder, which would have spared his life, according to Manuel Guerriero, who defended Mays, in a 1988 interview. Mays, however, turned down the offer and stated that he would rather be put to death.
The court heard evidence at Mays’s following trial that he had been a member of a group that had carried out 52 robberies in only six weeks. He reportedly informed reporters that he would sooner “fry” than serve a life sentence. The jury concluded its 90-minute deliberation by finding Mays guilty of first-degree murder. After another 20 minutes of deliberation, they decided against recommending mercy, culminating in the mandatory execution of Mays. Robert Sour, a composer, was a juror in his case.
Sanchez-Fernandez and Johnson were given life sentences. Johnson was released on parole in 1976 and was employed in the Bronx in 1983. After being granted parole in 1977, Sanchez Fernandez passed away in 1978 due to brain cancer.
Assisted by a Protestant chaplain, Mays entered the execution chamber at 10:01 pm on August 15, 1963, and was then put into the electric chair. Before being electrocuted, he gave no closing remarks to the jail warden or other witnesses. He was declared dead three minutes later, at 10:04 p.m.
Mays would be the last person to die in “Old Sparky,” the electric chair used by New York State at the Sing Sing prison. Dow Hover served as the state’s electrician. Since 1890, the electric chair had been the only means of execution in the state (hanging had been abolished in 1888). The death penalty was abolished in the state of New York in 1965, with the exception of crimes involving the murder of a police officer.  There were no more executions because of decisions made by the Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia in 1972 and the New York Court of Appeals in People v. LaValle in 2004, even though the legislature never completely repealed the death penalty statute and the state even increased it in 1995.