EDITORIALS: The Fallibility of Forensic Evidence Argues Against the Death Penalty

A recent editorial in the Lincoln Journal Star of Nebraska concluded that experience with inaccurate evidence from crime labs shows that the death penalty cannot be trusted in the taking of life.  The paper called for the repeal of the death penalty based on a case in which the state's CSI director tampered with evidence in a murder case. Recently, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the conviction of former CSI chief David Kofoed for planting evidence in a double murder. Kofoed placed a speck of blood in a car belonging to a suspect, which resulted in two innocent men being held in jail for several months. The editorial said such crime-lab error has also been found elsewhere: “You will be - or should be - appalled at the number of times that crime labs turn out to be providing inaccurate and phony evidence. The problems crop up in New York, San Francisco, Houston and many points in between. Sometimes the problem is sloppiness. Sometimes technicians are manufacturing evidence deliberately. Sometimes the science itself turns out to be untrustworthy.” The editorial cited a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences that criticized some of the science behind crime lab testimony. The report found that, other than DNA technology, “no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source,” and that, “Substantive information and testimony based on faulty forensic science analyses may have contributed to wrongful convictions of innocent people.”  The editorial concluded, "The fallibility of the criminal justice system has been demonstrated again and again. Innocent people have been executed in the past and will be in the future," and thus people should "support repeal of the death penalty."  Read full editorial below.

NEW VOICES: Texas's Baptist Standard Advocates Ending Death Penalty

An editorial in the Baptist Standard, published in Texas, recently called for repealing the death penalty in the next legislative session. Among the reasons cited by the paper for ending capital punishment were principles of religious faith, the risk of executing innocent defendants, its ineffectiveness in deterring crime, the high costs of prosecution, and its unfairness in affecting the poor and people of color. The editorial quoted the recent report from the National Research Council criticizing the "fundamental flaws in the research" about deterrence and discouraging reliance on such studies to support the death penalty. The paper concluded, “[T]he possibility—and almost certain likelihood—the state periodically executes innocent people should propel capital punishment beyond the pale of possibility. . . . Since we know the courts can make grievous mistakes, how can we say we value life and perpetuate a program that sometimes kills innocent people?”  Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: "Shortage of Key Drugs May Suspend Death Penalty in Missouri"

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch urged Missouri to end its death penalty as the system has ground to a halt because of controversies involving its method of execution. On May 8, a federal appeals court declined to rule on a challenge to the state’s lethal injection protocol because the Department of Corrections could no longer obtain one of the three drugs specified in the protocol. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said, “The DOC is unable to carry out the challenged protocol as written, and it appears unlikely it ever will.” A new protocol will be needed.  The drug shortage will almost surely halt executions in the state. The editorial called this recent turn of events “an ideal time for Missouri to follow the lead of 17 other states and forego capital punishment. It's expensive and serves no deterrent effect. Its administration is always arbitrary and capricious. Missouri so botched its procedures in the mid-2000s that a federal judge suspended executions until the state fixed the problems. Only two men have been executed since 2005.” Read full editorial below.

COMMENTARY: Death Penalty Climate Changing

Commentary from nationally syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne (pictured) and the New York Times reflected on the changing state of the death penalty in the U.S. in light of recent developments. Dionne cited the repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut as an example of a "remarkable pivot in the politics of the death penalty, the premier issue on which an overwhelming consensus favoring what’s taken to be the conservative side has begun to crumble."  He observed that "significant groups of libertarian Republicans and opponents of abortion have crossed to the repeal side." In an editorial titled "The Myth of Deterrence," the New York Times noted that "a distinguished committee of scholars working for the National Research Council has now reached the striking and convincing conclusion that all of the research about deterrence and the death penalty done in the past generation . . . should be ignored."  The Times concluded that other states should follow Connecticut’s lead in repealing the death penalty.  Read full texts below.

EDITORIALS: New York Times Recommends All States to Follow Connecticut's Lead

A recent editorial in the New York Times called Connecticut's decision to repeal the death penalty part of "a growing movement against capital punishment." The editorial attributed the trend away from the death penalty to new research that shows "gross injustice in its application and enormous costs in continuing to impose it." The problem of arbitrariness recently came to light in Connecticut, where "a powerful, comprehensive study provided evidence that state death sentences are haphazardly meted out, with virtually no connection to the heinousness of the crime." The Times also cited racial bias, inadequate representation, and wrongful convictions as problems inherent to the death penalty, saying that "the system cannot be fixed. It is practically impossible to rid the legal process of biases driven by race, class and politics." Ultimately, the paper concluded, it would be better to abolish the death penalty entirely.  Read the full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: ABA Report Finds Serious Problems with Missouri's Death Penalty

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called upon leaders in Missouri to make numerous changes to the state's death penalty in light of a recent American Bar Association report produced by a bipartisan panel of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and law professors.  The editorial highlighted many of the ABA’s recommendations, including “improving evidence standards, increasing public defender funding and creating more accountability for prosecutors.” It also noted that the ABA found that Missouri's statute contains "[t]oo many aggravating circumstances — 17 of them, many vague — that make the application of the death penalty by prosecutors arbitrary. In Missouri, virtually any murder case could qualify for the death penalty."  The editors called on Governor Jay Nixon to address the lack of transparency in the clemency process: “Mr. Nixon alone could make one move that would bring honor and justice to the legal profession he loves without jeopardizing his standing as a fierce death penalty proponent. He can commit to a transparent clemency process for as long as he is governor. It's not good enough to spare one life while condemning another if the public doesn't know the reasoning behind either decision.” Read full editorial below.

OP-ED: "Abolishing Death Penalty Was Right Choice for State"

Charles Hoffman, an assistant defender in the Office of the Illinois State Appellate Defender, recently wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, marking a year since the death penalty was repealed in Illinois. Hoffman, who has argued more than 30 death penalty cases before the Illinois Supreme Court, says that repealing the death penalty was the right choice for the state: “The rightness of that decision is more clear than ever. Violent crime rates have not climbed. The public is no less safe. And the pursuit of justice has been served, not undermined.” He notes that, in the year since doing away with the death penalty, the murder rate in Chicago remains at a 40-year low, and millions of dollars in Illinois’ Capital Litigation Trust Fund have been designated for services to help those affected by past crimes and help prevent future crimes. Hoffman concludes, “Our system of capital punishment was abolished because it was broken beyond repair, infected with racism and inherently arbitrary and prone to mistakes. There is no doubt we’re better off without the death penalty, both morally and fiscally.” Read full op-ed below.

EDITORIALS: "Maryland's Broken Death Penalty"

A recent editorial in The Washington Post highlighted ongoing problems with Maryland’s death penalty despite legislation passed in 2009 meant to reform the system. According to the editorial, “the legislature’s reform fixed nothing; if anything, it codified a system even more arbitrary than the one it replaced. Now the nature of the evidence, rather than the barbarity of the crime, is the critical factor. So a murder conviction based on DNA evidence might result in a death sentence, but not a Virginia Tech-style killing spree whose perpetrator is identified by multiple witnesses.” The editorial also explained that the reforms did not address racial and jurisdictional disparities in the death penalty’s application, and continues to impose burden on murder victims’ survivors: “The broken system is particularly burdensome for the families of murder victims, who face years, even decades, of litigation. Three of the state’s five death-row prisoners were sentenced nearly 30 years ago; the others were sentenced in the mid-1990s.” The editorial called for the Maryland General Assembly to consider ending the death penalty, saying that “by ducking the issue, they are leaving in place a costly, inefficient, unjust and dysfunctional system that exacts a terrible toll on the families of murder victims.”  Read full editorial below.