Tuesday, October 30, 2007

AG, ABA square off over death penalty

The political response from the right is predictable - nothing wrong with the death penalty except it is not carried out quickly or frequently. Evidence to the contrary means nothing.

read more digg story

The American Bar Association report carries a recommendation for a moratorium to allow states to study their capital punishment process. Basically, the ABA seems to be saying that if you are going to have capital punishment, there are certain minimum standards that should be met. None of the eight states studies is currently meeting these minimum standards. One of these states, Tennessee, is currently reviewing its process.

The response from the right has been typical - kill the messenger. I have seen no indication of any attempt to present evidence that the death penalty works as a legitimate punishment goal or that the states are meeting the 93 standards established by the ABA. Instead, you have people attacking the political orientation of the various state panels or, in the case of Alabama, the Attorney General is proclaiming that Alabama has no problems with its death penalty process and the proof is that there have been no mass reversals by appellate courts.

Here is an interesting quote from a NY Times article about a part of the capital punishment process in Alabama

"No condemned inmate, ..., can be expected without a lawyer to navigate the procedural minefields that Alabama has erected in capital cases.

In a series of cases starting with Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, the Supreme Court has said that poor criminal defendants are entitled to free lawyers for their trials and their first round of appeals. But an ambiguous 1989 decision indicated that habeas petitions, which are civil suits challenging unjust convictions and sentences, may be a different matter. That decision is widely understood to require only that inmates have access to adequate prison law libraries. Alabama has about 200 people on death row.

Few of them, presumably, have legal training or money to hire lawyers.Yet if they are to challenge their convictions or sentences, they must master the hyper-technical intricacies of Alabama's rules of criminal procedure, conduct investigations from behind prison walls and prepare and file their own petitions for post-conviction relief. The deadline is one year, after which Alabama courts close their doors.

The attorney general's office cuts the inmates no slack, seeking and getting dismissals of the prisoners' petitions for all manner of procedural shortcomings."

Draw your own conclusions about the process in Alabama. All I ask that you look at the ABA report and examine the data and the accounts from America's death rows. In the mean time, the criminal justice system continues to ignore the needs of the murder victims' families and friends.

Those individuals and groups who defend the death penalty while denying that problems exist are undermining the public's confidence in government's ability to govern fairly. No wonder that public support for the death penalty is declining, that death row is getting smaller, and that the number of executions continues to decline.

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