LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — With less than a month to the end of the 2021 Nevada Legislature's regular session, a bill to abolish the use of the death penalty, AB395, has made more progress toward becoming law than any similar bill in state history.
All people convicted of murder and sentenced to death would have their sentences commuted to life in prison instead.
Democrats in the Assembly passed the bill to the Senate along party lines, 26 to 16, where it has yet to be heard in the Committee on Judiciary.
UNLV Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies Tyler Parry has come to the bill's defense in the days leading up to its arrival in the Senate saying a criminal justice system that disproportionately sentences people of color to harsher penalties is not one to include the death penalty as an option.
"You really start to question and challenge the efficacy or even the morality of keeping the death penalty in place," Parry said.
The death penalty has also been more expensive than other cases involving a murder conviction.
A 2014 Nevada performance audit found the death penalty cost the state $532,000 more on average than other murder convictions where the death penalty wasn't brought in a trial.
Parry also argued that, in an imperfect system, people can never be sure that they haven't convicted and killed an innocent person.
"It's hard to make the moral case that it should stay because how many lives are too many," he said. "Is 2% too many? Is 10% too many?"
Death penalty supporters like Janine Hansen, president of Nevada Families for Freedom, agreed that the risk of putting an innocent person to death weighed heavy on the arguments against the punishment.
"That's why we must be very careful in pursuing the death penalty," she said.
Hansen argued, however, that the risk could be worth it to ensure the criminals who commit the most heinous acts never get free to act again.
She said some people don't deserve to live citing the 1 October shooter as an example.
"We don't want these criminals that have committed these heinous murders to be out on the streets," she said.
Hansen also said the death penalty is a tool district attorney can use to get people to plea guilty and agree to life in prison without parole sentence ensuring there's no chance of someone getting free.
Without the death penalty, she said she fears more people would plea guilty and strike a deal for life in prison with the possibility of parole opening the door to freedom in several years.
If passed in its current form in the Senate, AB 395 would go to Gov. Steve Sisolak for his signature.
Sisolak has publicly discussed his concerns about signing the bill saying there are certain severe cases in which the death penalty should be a consideration.