Results of Ballot Initiatives that May Surprise You

The ballots have been cast and the voters have decided; here are some initiatives from around the nation with results that may surprise you.

Photo by: Kelly Minars

Photo by: Kelly Minars

Legalization of marijuana

Some feel the legalization of marijuana is an issue that should’ve been resolved on a national level long ago. As it stands however, marijuana laws differ by state.

Marijuana Initiatives

Photo by: Chuck Coker

• Before Tuesday’s polls, medical marijuana was legal in 18 states; that number is currently 22. Now residents of Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota who are suffering from medical conditions such as epilepsy, glaucoma, and chronic pain will now be able to use medical marijuana that includes the psychoactive ingredient THC to help treat their symptoms.

• For those who wish to have the plant for leisure use: California, Nevada, and Massachusetts voters have joined with those in other states including Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington (and Washington D.C.) by voting in majority of initiatives that legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Maine could join that list, but currently is 50/50 while they wait for the 2% that haven’t reported yet. 52% of Arizona voters chose to stick with medical marijuana only while Utah didn’t even have marijuana on the ballot; the beehive state currently allows limited medical marijuana only along with 14 other states.

Death penalty

Capital punishment continues to be a sensitive issue. Many believe that those offenders who are found guilty of the most heinous of crimes should be removed from existence while others don’t believe taking a life is ever okay. Three states had initiatives on the ballot regarding the death penalty:

Photo by: Global Panorama

Photo by: Global Panorama

• California voters chose to not only keep the death penalty, but to hasten the time it takes for executions to be carried out.

• Residents in Oklahoma chose to protect the death penalty by amending the state constitution and giving lawmakers the option to choose other methods of execution if needed.

• The people of Nebraska chose to bring back the death penalty after their state legislature voted to abolish it just last year. Nebraska rejoins 30 other states that currently support the death penalty.

• The death penalty was not on the ballot for Utah where it is legal and usually carried out by lethal injection. The firing squad is another option however, with this method being used last in June of 2010 for the capital punishment of Ronnie Gardner.

Gun laws

With the countless incidents around the country where innocent people have lost their lives at the hands of crazed individuals wielding guns, some states chose to add initiatives to the ballots which toughen laws regarding gun control.

Photo by: frankieleon

Photo by: frankieleon

• 63% of California residents voted “yes” on proposition 63 which would require background checks on individuals purchasing any ammo and outlaw the possession of large capacity magazines.

• Residents in Washington State voted to allow judges the right to limit a person’s access to firearms temporarily if a family member or roommate of said person states they are displaying signs of behavioral or mental instability which may lead to a greater chance of them hurting someone including themselves.

• By a very slim margin, Nevada voters chose to require background checks for all sales of firearms.

• Maine was the only state with initiatives regarding gun laws on the ballot that chose not to toughen those laws. 52% of Maine voters chose to allow sales of guns between two parties, even if neither one is a licensed dealer.

• Utah is one of the states with more lenient gun laws and it will likely stay that way a while as nothing was included on the 2016 ballot. Currently Utah does not require background checks for gun purchases, has Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws, as well as allows open carry without a permit as long as firearms are not loaded.

Other noteworthy initiatives

With hundreds of initiatives on the ballots nationwide, there were a few that caught the attention of residents and media nationwide:

Ballot Initiatives

Photo by: michael_swan

• Minimum wage increase. Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington all had initiatives to increase the minimum wage with Arizona and Washington also including paid sick leave for employees. South Dakota tried to decrease the minimum wage for employees under the age of 18 years old but that initiative was highly rejected.

• Assisted suicide. Colorado joined California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington by voting “yes” to allow terminally ill patients of sound mind the right to end their lives by taking lethal drugs prescribed to them by a physician.

• Condoms for porn stars. 54% of California residents voted “no” to requiring actors in porn films to wear condoms during sex scenes. Perhaps the other parts to Proposition 60 that required film producers to obtain a health license and pay for numerous medical necessities of their paid actors is what drove voters to not pass the initiative.

For more information on the initiatives and poll results for the state of Utah, go to electionresults.utah.gov .

Aggravated Arson and Murder Charges for Estranged Husband of Salt Lake City Restaurateur

The estranged husband of a Salt Lake City restaurateur and prominent LGBT activist was charged with aggravated arson and murder in connection with a deadly home fire.

Sunday morning blaze

Aggravated Arson

Photo by: John Goode

Shortly after 1:00am on Sunday, May 23, 2016 a fire was reported at the home of John Williams, a retired partner of Gastronomy Inc. who served the company for over four decades. Neighbors could hear screaming for help from a top story room, but fire fighters were unable to get Williams out in time. 72 year old John Williams was pronounced dead at the scene.

Cause of fire suspicious

Authorities originally stated that the fire was suspicious and likely not an accident. During the investigation which had been determined to be aggravated arson, witnesses claimed to see Williams’ estranged husband, 47 year old Craig Crawford near the home shortly after the fire was reported. According to court documents, Williams filed for a divorce from Crawford earlier this month and attempted to get a restraining order as well. No more information has been released regarding the couple’s marital issues, yet Crawford was considered an initial suspect early on in the investigation.

Aggravated arson

According to Utah Code: “A person is guilty of aggravated arson if by means of fire or explosives he intentionally and unlawfully damages: a habitable structure; or any structure or vehicle when any person not a participant in the offense is in the structure or vehicle.” Aggravated arson is a first degree felony, punishable by five years to life in prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000.

Aggravated murder

Photo by: Christopher

Photo by: Christopher

Since a death occurred because of the fire, Crawford is also facing aggravated murder or criminal homicide. Aggravated murder has the potential to be a capital felony if prosecutors file notice of intent to seek the death penalty. If not, it will be an additional first degree felony. Crawford is currently being held on 1 million dollar bail.

Capital Punishment Continues to Draw Lines in the Sand

capital punishment draws lines in the sand

Photo: CA Corrections/Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of multiple botched lethal injection executions over the past year—including those of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, Dennis McGuire in Ohio, and Joseph Rudolph Wood in Arizona—the practice of capital punishment is being brought under the microscope in a way that it hasn’t been perhaps since its inception.

On Feb. 9, the American Bar Association House of Delegates passed two resolutions, both focusing on a seeming overall stance that capital punishment isn’t something to be administered lightly. According to the ABA Journal, Resolution 108A calls for a unanimous jury decision before imposing the death penalty anywhere that capital punishment is legal—including the U.S. military. In addition, Resolution 108B calls for “open and transparent” disclosure of execution protocols as well as public comment on any new protocols and disclosure of all relevant information.

This latter resolution would seem to address previous cases of death row inmates requesting more information on the drugs that would be used to execute them. The U.S. Supreme Court walked away from one such case, that of Joseph Rudolph Wood, with egg on their face after lifting a stay of execution requested by Wood so he could get such information. It took Wood nearly two hours to die, during which it was reported by his lawyers: “He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour . . . He is still alive.”

Currently the Supreme Court has another case pending, Glossip v. Gross, wherein four Oklahoma death penalty defendants have challenged the state’s use of midazolam in lethal injection, claiming the drug lacked the necessary pain-relieving qualities. Of the four defendants, Richard Warner, was not granted a stay of execution and was put to death on Jan. 15. The other three defendants were granted their stays on Jan. 28.

Amidst this controversy, states where capital punishment is still allowed are making headlines with different approaches to try to remedy the situation, including Oklahoma where the Glossip case is pending, Utah, and Pennsylvania.

Oklahoma Reconsiders Gas Chamber

Many of the problems with lethal injection as the preferred method of capital punishment have arisen as a result of the fact that suppliers of the traditional three-drug combination used for execution have started deciding that they no longer are going to sell their drugs for that use. As a result, many states are having to seek alternative drug or drug combinations, some of which have yet to be approved by the FDA.

In addition to the lack of pain-relieving properties of midazolam, according to a Law.com report, an anesthesiologist testified that the drug has a “ceiling effect,” a point at which the drug saturation in the body may not be able to continue keeping the person completely unconscious.

The ABA Journal reports that in the midst of Glossip v. Gross, Oklahoma officials have conceded that midazolam is not the preferred drug for execution. However, taking it a step further, two bills are in Oklahoma legislative committees to use nitrogen gas to carry out the capital punishment as a backup method if the state’s current method is found unconstitutional.

As opposed to traditional gas chambers which use drugs such as cyanide, breathing nitrogen would lead to hypoxia, a depletion of oxygen in the bloodstream. One of the bill sponsors, Rep. Mike Christian called the practice “a lot more practical,” “efficient,” and “painless,” saying it is similar to what can happen to pilots at high altitudes.

Currently four states allow lethal gas for capital punishment—Arizona, California, Missouri, and Wyoming—but only as a secondary method to lethal injection, and no state has ever used nitrogen or another inert gas to create hypoxia.

As Oklahoma law stands now, their secondary method of execution is the electric chair, and the firing squad is the third option. However, Christian is considering amending his bill to include eliminating the electric chair as an option.

Utah Reconsiders Firing Squad

Even though Utah has only executed seven men since 1976, as a state where capital punishment is still legal, they are facing the same dilemma as Oklahoma. If the practice is found unconstitutional, what do they do next? While not considering the gas chamber, the state is closer to reinstating the firing squad.

According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, on Feb. 13, the Utah House of Representatives passed HB11 reinstating the firing squad as a secondary means of carrying out the death penalty. The bill passed 39 to 34, with 38 votes being the minimum to pass the House. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, will now move to the Senate.

This bill would bring back the firing squad as an option, something which was eliminated from Utah law in 2004. Opponents to the legislation claim that it disproportionately affects minority communities and is more barbaric than lethal injection.

Minority Leader Brian King argued not so much against the firing squad as he did against capital punishment in general, stating that death penalty sentences result in higher costs for the state than life terms in prison and that states with the death penalty actually have a higher murder rate than other states.

Pennsylvania Governor Says “No” to Capital Punishment

Also on Friday, Feb. 13, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf stated that he is putting a stop to all scheduled executions until he has a report from a task force on the matter.

According to the ABA Journal, while Wolf says he believes that the guilty should be punished and is still sympathetic to crime victims, he called capital punishment “a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive.”

Opponents to Wolf’s decision, including prosecutor and police organizations, are strongly criticizing the action. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association called his decision “a ploy” and “a misuse of power” and said he was disregarding a long line of people—including juries and judges—who didn’t take the decision to impose capital punishment lightly.

However, Wolf has supporters in the decision as well, including in some cases, relatives of murder victims. Some have reiterated the cost factor of capital punishment as well as the fact that it has often been discovered posthumously that innocent people were put to death.

While the future of lethal injection is uncertain, it would seem that the decision by the Supreme Court regarding Glossip v. Gross will most likely set the stage in the 32 states that still allow capital punishment to make moves similar to those seen in Oklahoma, Utah, and Pennsylvania.