A blog produced by the Oregon Justice Resource Center discussing the death penalty (capital punishment) in Oregon and in the Ninth Circuit.
Since 1973, when Idaho amended its death penalty sentencing statues in response to Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 237 (1972) three people have been executed in the state. Two of those executions have taken place since November of 2011, before which Idaho had not executed anyone for 17 years. The state has a relatively small death row population, 12 people are currently living on death row. Idaho allows the death sentence to be imposed for a person convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping in the first degree, or perjury leading to the execution of an innocent person. However, the death penalty is almost never imposed upon conviction of anything but first-degree murder. (OCE, 2005, IDC, 2009, and DPIC, 2012)
Idaho’s last execution by hanging was conducted in 1957, since then Idaho has been forced to dramatically restructure its death penalty three times in response to decisions from the Supreme Court. In Furman the Court decided that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment under the Eight Amendment if it was administered indiscriminately. This decision invalidated Idaho’s death penalty statue, in response the Idaho legislature amended the statute to make the death penalty mandatory for all convictions of first-degree murder and transferred the role of sentencing to the court. This eliminated any discretion on the part of the sentencing party, thus eliminating indiscriminate administration. (Kluksdal, 1996, OCE, 2005, DPIC, 2012)
In Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976), the Supreme Court held mandatory death sentences to be invalid. Courts were required to weigh a variety of mitigating factors. The Idaho legislature again amended the state’s capital punishment statues to require that the court hold a sentencing hearing where aggravating and mitigating factors would be presented. This new amendment also included a provision for a mandatory review of all death sentences by the Idaho Supreme Court. (OCE, 2005)
In 1994 the Idaho legislature amended the Idaho death penalty statute to eliminate the requirement that the court conduct a proportionality test, instead, they only require that the reviewing court determine that the weighing of aggravating and mitigating factors was supported by the record. (Kluksdal, 1996)
The most recent major amendments to the Idaho statute were a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002). The Ring decision said that the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that a jury make all factual findings necessary to impose the death penalty. This decision invalidated the death penalty statutes of the five states, including Idaho, which allowed the trial judge to determine whether aggravating circumstances exist. In February of 2003, Governor Dirk Kempthorne signed a bill that restored Idaho’s death penalty. The new statute, still allows the court to impose a sentence, but only if the death penalty is not an option. The statute requires a jury to determine the sentence unless the defendant waives his right to a jury with the consent of the prosecuting attorney. (Hunsaker, 2003 and OCE, 2005)
There are currently eleven men and one woman on death row in Idaho. The state has executed three men since the 1973 reinstatement of the death penalty, Keith Eugene Wells in 1994, Paul Ezra Rhoades 2011, and Richard Albert Leavitt in 2012, all by lethal injection. The sentence of Lacey Mark Sivak, previously the longest serving inmate on death row in Idaho, has been vacated and remanded. Sicak v. Hardison, 658 F. 3d 898 (9th Cir. 2011). However, the prosecutor’s office may seek the death penalty again. Idaho has never executed a woman. (Kluksdal, 1996, IDC, 2009, Boone, 2011 and Boone, 2012)