Due to the unique and irreversible nature of ending a person’s life, death penalty statutes must satisfy complex legal requirements in order to remain constitutional.
Do Wyoming’s death penalty laws meet these requirements?
The ACLU of Wyoming believes that the state’s death penalty laws violate both the United States and Wyoming Constitutions and we are asking the state’s legislators to repeal the capital punishment in the state.
Over the years, courts at both the federal and state levels have regularly held that death penalty statutes can easily violate our nation’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.
Of these constitutional requirements, none is more important than the prohibition against punishments imposed in an “arbitrary and unpredictable fashion.” Inherent in this prohibition against arbitrary enforcement is the idea that the death penalty also cannot be enforced in a racially biased manner. Since 2006, 14 capital cases have been brought by Wyoming prosecutors. Of those cases, 43 percent were brought against people of color, despite the fact that these groups comprise only 16 percent of the state’s population.
Additionally, the Supreme Court’s previous rulings on capital punishment make clear that the scope of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments is not static but rather must be considered based on the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.
This evolving standard is especially relevant since Wyoming’s courts haven’t considered whether the state’s death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment since 2003. Since that time, there have been significant changes in how the death penalty is viewed and these evolving standards must be taken into account when analyzing the constitutionality of Wyoming’s laws.
As more information becomes available about the arbitrary and discriminatory manner in which these laws are applied — and as societal standards regarding the death penalty continue to evolve — it becomes increasingly difficult for capital punishment laws to avoid violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. For these reasons, the ACLU of Wyoming encourages Wyoming legislators to repeal the death penalty in the 2020 Legislative Session.