Michigan Voters Might Reinstate the Death Penalty After 170 Years

By Eric Revell

Michigan became the first U.S. state to abolish the death penalty in 1846. Now voters may have a chance to decide in November whether to bring it back for people who kill cops.

What the Referendum Does

This referendum would amend the Michigan Constitution to allow the death penalty as punishment for the first degree murder of a police or corrections officer while they’re on duty.

Argument In Favor

Murdering a law enforcement officer who puts their life on the line to ensure public safety is one of the most despicable crimes a person can commit as it directly undermines the rule of law. The death penalty is the only punishment strong enough to deter criminals from committing heinous acts.

Argument Opposed

The death penalty is inhumane and doesn’t belong in a civilized society regardless of the crime committed. It simply perpetuates the cycle of violence, and the criminal justice system is imperfect, meaning that an innocent person could be executed.


Michigan’s decision to abolish the death penalty in 1846 wasn’t only significant in American history, it also made the state the first government in the English-speaking world to ban capital punishment. While treason was still technically punishable by the death penalty under Michigan law, it was never used by the state, and in 1963 a constitutional amendment was passed to completely eliminate the death penalty from state law.

In 2004, the Michigan legislature considered legislation to amend the state constitution and allow the death penalty for all first degree murders (not just for murders of law enforcement like the current proposal). On a 55–52 vote, itfailed to get the two-thirds support in the House it needed to advance to the Senate.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are 31 states that allow the death penalty to be used, though only seven carried out executions between the start of 2015 and July 1, 2016.

Before this referendum can appear on voters’ ballots in November, at least two-thirds of both chambers of the state legislature would have to agree to the refer the question to voters. (A referendum, unlike initiatives, involves the legislature asking voters if they’d approve a certain policy rather than voters gathering signatures to put a proposal on the ballot).

With Election Day looming, the Michigan legislature would likely need to hold those votes during its September session for the referendum to be on the ballot, as the state’s House is only scheduled to be in session for one day between October 1st and the election.

This post originally appeared on Countable.

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