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December 31, 2009

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of civil liberties. To date, 135 inmates were found to be innocent and released from death row. The ACLU Capital Punishment Project is fighting for the end of the death penalty by supporting moratorium and repeal movements through public education and advocacy. We are engaged in systemic reform of the death penalty process, and case-specific litigation highlighting some of its fundamental flaws.

In Wisconsin, the death penalty has been outlawed since 1853. In 2006 a non-binding referendum was placed on the statewide ballot to ask voters, “should the death penalty be enacted in the state of Wisconsin for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence?” Voters approved the advisory referendum by 55%.

The ACLU of Wisconsin worked with the No Death Penalty WI coalition to oppose the referendum because we knew that the criminal justice system is often unfair and makes mistakes. We also opposed the death penalty referendum because the death penalty is inherently cruel punishment. And ultimately the appeals process for those with death penalty convictions is often more costly than life in prison.

Fortunately the referendum was non-binding. The voters we reached learned about the reality of the death penalty and were moved to oppose it. We will continue to be vigilant to any future efforts to change Wisconsin’s long history of rejecting the death penalty.

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