The Supreme Court has the chance to end the death penalty. They should take it

There is no question that Abel Hidalgo has committed some awful crimes. As a gang member in Arizona, he accepted $1,000 in 2001 to murder auto repair shop owner Michael Cordova and also killed another man, Jose Rojas, who showed up at the shop at the wrong time. It took a year and an informant’s tip to lead police to Hidalgo, who by then was in federal prison for the drug-related murders of two women (one of them a former girlfriend) on a Native American reservation in Idaho.

Hidalgo is just the kind of person from whom society needs to be protected, and he should be locked away. Few would disagree about that. A more complicated question — even for those who support capital punishment — is whether an Arizona jury was right to sentence him to death.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that states must design their capital punishment statutes so that only truly egregious crimes are punished by death. But Hidalgo argues that Arizona has added so many “aggravating circumstances” — factors that turn a run-of-the-mill killing into a capital crime — that pretty much any murder in Arizona can now qualify for the death penalty.

Hidalgo’s argument circles back to two key Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s. The 1972 Furman decision struck down the death penalty entirely on the grounds that it was being applied so arbitrarily that it violated the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments.” States then began rewriting their death statutes to try to reduce their arbitrary application, and in 1976 the court ruled that the death penalty could resume in states with statutes limiting the death penalty to particularly atrocious crimes.

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