EDITORIALS: "With Death Penalty Bans Gaining Steam, What's Next for Texas?"

The Dallas Morning News used the recent repeal of the death penalty in Maryland as an occasion to advocate for death-penalty reform in Texas. The editors commented on the overall impropriety of capital punishment: “At best, the death penalty is selectively used state-supported retribution, which has no place in a civilized society.” The editorial supported six pending bills aimed at improving the fairness of the death penalty. One bill would bar the use of informant testimony in death penalty cases if the testimony was obtained from a witness or accomplice in exchange for favorable treatment. Another bill would create criteria based on scientific standards for courts deciding whether a defendant has an intellectual disability that would exclude him from execution. A third bill would introduce a Racial Justice Act into law to protect against bias in death sentencing. Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Montana Paper Calls for Repeal

A recent editorial in the Great Falls Tribune in Montana outlined some of the key problems with the death penalty as the state legislature considers its repeal. The editors expressed concerns about the risks of mistake with executions: “There is no way to take back an execution. That reason alone provides good cause to eliminate the death penalty in Montana.” The paper also noted that victims' families wait for decades for executions to be carried out, with the defendants receiving most of the attention: "[D]uring the long periods before their executions, these men received regular publicity and notoriety for their crimes. If they had been simply locked up for life without possibility of parole, people could have forgotten about them." The editorial concluded, “Our bottom line is that it’s risky to execute people when they might not be guilty. In addition, the cost and trauma of court cases that drag on for years is not worth the satisfaction some people receive from the finality of executions. We simply cannot afford to spend millions of dollars each on future death penalty cases.”  Read the editorial below.

EDITORIALS: "Florida's Death Penalty Needs a Fresh Look"

A recent editorial in Florida’s Tampa Bay Times called for lawmakers to study the state’s death penalty because of its high number of exonerations and death sentences. Using information from DPIC's recent 2012 Year End Report, the editorial noted that 2012 marked the second consecutive year in which the state led the country in new death sentences. The editorial suggested that one of the reasons for these numbers was likely Florida's failure to require a unanimous jury recommendation for death sentences, one of the few states in the country with such a policy. While implying that the better path might be complete abolition of the death penalty, the editorial called for changes in the sentencing process, saying that its current procedures are haphazard and error-prone.  The paper concluded, “Florida is long overdue for a comprehensive look at its death penalty system… It is time to better understand why the state imposes the penalty disproportionately and ends up exonerating so many. Basic justice demands it.”  Read the full editorial below.

DPIC'S YEAR END REPORT: What the Media Are Saying

DPIC's 2012 Year End Report received extensive media coverage in the U.S. and internationally. Coverage included pieces by the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Reuters, New York Times, CNN, and hundreds of other outlets. National broadcast outlets such as NPR, MSNBC, and CBS Radio also ran pieces. Many papers editorialized about the themes highlighted in the Report, including the continuing decline in the use of the death penalty around the country, the geographic clustering of sentences and executions in just a few states, and reasons why people are changing their minds about capital punishment. An editorial in the Virginian-Pilot said state statistics from the report indicated the death penalty had reached a "turning point" and called for ending it: "Multiple studies have shown the death penalty does not reduce crime. The money could be better spent preventing crime and solving unsolved cases." The Amarillo Globe News  in Texas raised concerns about costs; the Anniston Star in Alabama called the death penalty "barbaric;" and the New York Times said it "should be abolished." An editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram encouraged Texans to reconsider the death penalty, noting, “At a time when much of the nation is rethinking the issue of capital punishment, it's worth Texans considering whether continuing to be first on the death penalty is something to brag about… Debate about the death penalty - its legal, moral, fiscal and practical considerations - should go on, especially considering the flaws that continue to be exposed in the justice system."

EDITORIALS: "America’s Retreat From the Death Penalty"

Following the themes of DPIC's 2012 Year End Report, the lead editorial for Jan. 2 in the New York Times concluded that "capital punishment is cruel and unusual" as judged by the country's "evolving standards" of decency and "should be abolished" by the Supreme Court. The Times’s editorial noted the fewer number of states carrying out executions, the lack of any meaningful rationale, the arbitrariness of its application, and the risk of executing the innocent as major problems with the current death penalty. The editors said the primary purposes for imposing capital punishment--deterrence and retribution--"have been seriously undermined by a growing group of judges, prosecutors, scholars and others involved in criminal justice, conservatives and liberals alike." Read the full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: "Oregon's Life-or-Death Vote"

A recent editorial in The Oregonian, one of the state's major newspapers, endorsed a bill in the upcoming legislative session that could result in the repeal of the death penalty. The bill, to be introduced by Rep. Mitch Greenlick, would begin the process of amending the state's constitution through a referendum as early as November 2014. The editors wrote, "5 states -- New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and New Mexico -- have abandoned the death penalty in recent years. Advances in DNA testing, combined with dogged advocacy work, have startled the public into realizing that dozens of innocent people have been wrongly sentenced to die based on faulty evidence and poor legal defense. Oregon has grown more liberal since its last vote on capital punishment about three decades ago, and it's possible to picture Oregon joining the ranks of the abolitionists." Read full editorial below.  

EDITORIAL: "End the Death Penalty in New Hampshire"

A recent editorial in the New York Times called for the end of the death penalty in New Hampshire. The editorial highlighted the case of Michael Addison, who is the only prisoner on the state’s death row. Addison was sentenced to death in 2008 for fatally shooting a police officer. The state Supreme Court recently held hearings for Addison, who is seeking a new trial or sentencing hearing because the original proceedings were unfair. According to the editorial, “The trial was held about 100 yards from the police department where the officer had served and the judge refused to move it to another part of the state. The jury was picked from the community that lined up for miles to show respect for the officer after his memorial service and the judge unduly restricted the defense's challenges for keeping off the jury people with their minds already made up.” The editorial concludes, “The Addison case demonstrates the extreme difficulty of applying the death penalty fairly, especially in a state that gets so little practice. The immorality of the punishment is made worse by its inequitable use. Justice will be much better served there by abolishing the punishment.”  Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Preserving Independent Funding for Death Penalty Representation

A recent editorial in the Miami Herald applauded a court decision finding that the costs of represening defendants in Florida death penalty cases should be kept separate from the judges’ annual budget. A state judge held it would be unconstitutional to have judges making decisions about attorneys' fees when the money for such expenses comes from the judges' own resources. The editorial stated, "We depend on the court system to dispense justice—period. Not justice on a budget, not justice on the cheap, not justice with 'ka-ching' in the back of a judge’s mind." The costs formerly came out of general state revenue. Death penalty attorney David Markus said the law would have made “judges think twice about paying a lawyer, knowing that he or she has to also think about paying his secretary or buying copier paper.” The editorial called on lawmakers to heed the recommendations of the Florida Innocence Commission, which made several recommendations to correct the high rate of wrongful convictions in the state. The editors wrote, “Lawmakers truly interested in reform would take the recommendations seriously, even though they require more-adequate funding. Instead, the Legislature has steadily chipped away at courts’ budgets for the past six years, while the volume of cases has increased. That’s a stumbling block to real reform.” Florida leads the country in exonerations from death row, with 23 wrongful convictions overturned since 1973.  Read full editorial below.