On Sunday, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a condemned murderer trying to seek his own death warrant in the face of reprieve was bound to accept the reprieve. In November 2011, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber had issued a blanket reprieve to all prisoners on Oregon’s death row.
However, he did not commute the sentences of the death row inmates permanently, holding that he did not have the personal capacity to change the state’s law on capital punishment by acting alone.
Kitzhaber’s blanket reprieve came about a month prior to the scheduled execution of Gary Haugen, who was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s mother. Later he and another person were convicted of killing a prison inmate.
Haugen argued that it was cruel and unusual punishment to order an impermanent reprieve that left death row inmates on limbo, unsure of their future. He sued to have his death warrant issued.
A lower court held that he had the right to reject the reprieve, but the Oregon Supreme Court overturned the decision of the lower court and held that the prison inmate did not have the right to reject the reprieve.
Oregon Chief Justice Thomas Balmer observed that “nothing inherent in the world ‘reprieve’ requires the recipient’s acceptance for the reprieve to be effective.” The court also rejected the argument that a temporary reprieve from execution created cruel and unusual punishment due to uncertainty.
Kitzhaber, who is a staunch opponent of capital punishment welcomed the ruling of the Oregon Supreme Court and issued a statement calling “for a reevaluation of our current system that embraces capital punishment, which has devolved into an unworkable system that fails to meet the basic standards of justice.”
Currently, 18 U.S. states have abolished the death penalty.