RESOURCES: The Angolite Explores Capital Punishment Internationally

The prison news magazine The Angolite features an in-depth piece on the use of capital punishment around the world in its recent isssue. Citing a 2008 Amnesty International report, the article notes that China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and the United States lead the world in executions.  Japan, the only other industrialized democracy besides the U.S. that uses capital punishment, averages five executions a year but is known for inhumane death row conditions.   Author and inmate Lane Nelson details the conditions, the methods, and the controversies surrounding capital punishment in China, Iran, and Japan. 

NEW RESOURCES: The Private Bar’s Efforts to Secure Proper Representation for those Facing Execution

Civil rights litigator and death penalty expert Ronald J. Tabak recently published “The Private Bar’s Efforts to Secure Proper Representation for those Facing Execution” in the Justice System Journal. The article presents an in-depth review of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) role in ensuring effective counsel in capital cases. Tabak recounts the ABA’s efforts since the mid-1980’s to secure competent representation at every state of legal proceedings, stating that “someone without counsel has little chance of securing redress for constitutional violations that may have tainted a conviction or death sentence.”

The article explores the particular problem that exists because the Supreme Court has not recognized a right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings. Death-sentenced inmates may lack representation after their trial and direct appeal even though the legal proceedings that follow would offer opportnities to challenge their convictions and death sentences. Mr. Tabak discusses the ABA’s efforts to find pro bono lawyers to represent death-sentenced inmates in post-conviction proceedings, federal habeas corpus proceedings, and clemency proceedings. “Dealing with the issues specific to capital cases, whether arising from the trial record or requiring further investigation, requires an expertise far beyond that of most criminal law practitioners--not to mention the civil lawyers who predominate among the volunteers whom the ABA recruits,” explains Tabak. If lawyers do not understand the complex procedures and rules of capital cases, it "can literally prove fatal to clients.”

ARTICLES:The Story of a Death Row Inmate Who Wanted to Die

In 1996, Illinois Governor Jim Edgar commuted the death sentence of Guin Garcia to life without parole, even though Garcia herself had stopped fighting for her life. Garcia would have been the first woman executed in the U.S. in twelve years. She had been convicted of killing the man who had physically abused her, but she had dropped her appeals because she said she was done “begging for her life.” Chicago Sun-Times reporter Carol Marin followed Garcia's case after the commutation and recently wrote about the changes in Garcia's life.

ARTICLES: Time Magazine: "This weighty moral issue. . . involves a lot of winging it.”

A recent article in Time Magazine by Editor-at-large David Von Drehle examines the current state of the death penalty in the United States at a time when the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the most widely used method of execution--lethal injection. Von Drehle writes, “In a perfect world, perhaps, the government wouldn't wait 30 years and several hundred executions to determine whether an execution method makes sense. But the world of capital punishment has never been that sort of place.

RESOURCES: Leading Criminologist Recommends Halt to Executions as Public Policy Priority

The journal of Criminology & Public Policy recently asked leading experts to recommend important policy changes needed in the area of criminal justice and to provide the evidence to support such change. Although most of the articles addressed various prison and treatment issues, the first article by Prof. James Acker of the University at Albany called for an immediate moratorium on executions. Prof. Acker examines the United States' long history of grappling with the death penalty.

ARTICLES: Lethal Injections and the Overall Decline in the Death Penalty

A recent Newsweek article by Evan Thomas and Martha Brant compares the historical search for humane methods of execution with the current decline in the use of the death penalty in the U.S.:

The new reluctance to punish by killing is part of a historical trend. There was a time when death and torture were spectator sports, when crowds flocked to see prisoners drawn and quartered or beheaded. In some parts of the world, flogging and stoning are still public spectacles. But in the 19th century, supposedly "enlightened" states began looking for more-humane ways to serve final justice—to kill people without causing too much suffering to either the victims or their executioners. The authorities tried hanging, firing squads, electrocutions, gas chambers and, more recently, lethal injection. Each method was supposed to be an improvement over the last.

NEW RESOURCE: American Journal of Criminal Law to Feature Article on Effective Counsel

In a forthcoming article in the American Journal of Criminal Law, John H. Blume of Cornell Law School explores recent Supreme Court decisions that affect the guidelines for effective counsel for capital defendants. Blume notes in "It's Like Déjà Vu All Over Again: Williams V. Taylor, Wiggins V. Smith, Rompilla V. Beard and a (Partial) Return to the Guidelines Approach to the Effective Assistance of Counsel" that despite the recognition by researchers, litigators, and judges of the problem of poor representation of capital defendants, most post-conviction claims of ineffective counsel are denied.

Claims of ineffective counsel are typically judged by the standards set forth in Strickland v. Washington (1984), which require a defendant to show that his lawyer did not perform within a wide range of competency and that this poor performance gives probability that the outcome of the defendant’s case would have been different. According to Blume, the Strickland standards have been difficult for defendants to satisfy. The cases discussed in Blume’s article, however, offer promise for change because “while purporting to operate within the Strickland framework, the [Supreme] Court in all cases held that trial counsel's representation was constitutionally inadequate.” Instead, the Supreme Court in Williams V. Taylor, Wiggins V. Smith, and Rompilla V. Beard used the American Bar Association Standards for Criminal Justice as guidelines for determining effective counsel and found the counsel in each case ineffective.

NEW RESOURCE: The Angolite Examines Death Penalty, Its Impact on Families of the Condemned

The most recent edition of The Angolite, the nation's largest prison news magazine, contains an article detailing national death penalty trends and developments. The piece also highlights the impact of capital punishment on family members and close friends of those facing execution. It notes, "Lost in the shadows of these central arguments is something that defines us human beings: Taking care of our own. Unseen, unheard family members and close friends of those on death row have committed no crime, have done no wrong, yet they must suffer the sterilized and calculated execution of their loved one. When the state shuffles a mother's son into the death chamber, her heart hurts just the same as the loved ones of the person her son murdered. She becomes another in a long line of grieving human beings -- victimized by a system unintentionally designed to spread a wide net of emotional pain."