MAJOR STUDY Finds Arbitrary Application of the Death Penalty

In a comprehensive study covering 20 years and thousands of capital cases in Ohio, the Associated Press found that the death penalty has been applied in an uneven and often arbitrary fashion.  Among the conclusions of the study that analyzed 1,936 indictments reported to the Ohio Supreme Court by counties with capital cases from October 1981 through 2002 were:

MEDICAL JOURNAL, THE LANCET: Inmates Probably Conscious During Lethal Injections

inmates affected A team of medical doctors reported in the British medical journal The Lancet that in 43 of 49 executed inmates (88%) studied, the anaesthetic administered during lethal injections was lower than that required for surgery.  Toxicology reports from Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina revealed that post-mortem concentrations of thiopental in the blood were below typical surgery levels, and in 21 inmates (43%) the concentrations of thiopental in the blood were consistent with awareness.  Their investigation of lethal injection practices from several states found that the guidelines for delivering the essential anaesthesia drug thiopental are flawed and that some inmates might experience awareness and suffering during their execution. In Texas and Virginia, the researchers found that those administering thiopental during lethal injections had no training, and that the drug was administered remotely with no monitoring for anaesthesia. The study also found that in these states no records were kept regarding the administration of thiopental and no peer-review was done.  The report concludes, "Failures in protocol design, implementation, monitoring and review might have led to the unnecessary suffering of at least some of those executed. Because participation of doctors in protocol design or execution is ethically prohibited, adequate anaesthesia cannot be certain. Therefore, to prevent unnecessary cruelty and suffering, cessation and public review of lethal injection is warranted."  (The Lancet, Volume 365, Page 1412, April 16, 2005).  See Methods of Execution






New York State Legislature Issues Comprehensive Death Penalty Report

In the most comprehensive examination of a statute in the history of the New York State Legislature, state lawmakers released a report highlighting the testimony of 170 witnesses at five statewide hearings on the state's death penalty law. The report, issued by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver along with the Chairs of  the Committees on Codes, the Judiciary and Correction, is a thorough examination of the statute and its troubled history.

"We have spent more than $170 million administering the death penalty since 1995, but not a

Virginia Study Says Mistaken Eyewitness Identification Is Major Factor In Wrongful Convictions

A two-year study of 11 wrongful conviction cases in Virginia found that mistaken eyewitness identification is the major reason innocent people have been convicted in the state. The report's recommendations note that Virginia could dramatically reduce the number of wrongful convictions through a series of reforms, such as changing a variety of police procedures, relaxing the state's 21-day rule to allow evidence of innocence to be considered beyond this time restriction, ensuring that prosecutors provide defense attorneys with evidence favorable to defendants, and improving the quality of legal help given to poor people in Virginia. The state currently pays court-appointed lawyers the lowest fees in the nation. Researchers conducting the study closely examined the cases of 11 wrongly convicted persons in Virginia who had spent a total of 118 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Nine of the 11 cases involved mistaken identity by victims or other eyewitnesses, especially when the eyewitness was of one race and the alleged perpetrator or another. The review was spearheaded by the Innocence Commission for Virginia, a collaborative effort of The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, the Administration of Justice Program at George Mason University, and The Constitution Project.

In California, Taxpayers are Paying a Quarter of a Billion Dollars for each Execution

According to state and federal records obtained by The Los Angeles Times, maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life. This figure does not count the millions more spent on court costs to prosecute capital cases.  The Times concluded that Californians and federal taxpayers have paid more than a quarter of a billion dollars for each of the state's 11 executions, and that it costs $90,000 more a year to house one inmate on death row, where each person has a private cell and extra guards, than in general prison population. This additional cost per prisoner adds up to $57.5 million in annual spending.

DETERRENCE: Expert Testimony Discusses Recent Studies

Dr. Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia University Law School and a leading national expert on deterrence, testifed that recent studies claiming to show a deterrent effect to capital punishment are fraught with technical and conceptual errors. Fagan noted that a string of recent studies purporting to show that the death penalty can prevent murders use inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, fail to consider all the relevant factors that drive murder rates, and do not consider important variables in key states.

Clemency Reforms Urged In Texas

Texas should overhaul its executive clemency process to ensure a fair and equitable justice system, according to a new report by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Innocence Network.

NEW RESOURCE: Bar Association Report Catalogs New York's Death Penalty Flaws

New York's dormant death penalty law fails to meet the minimum standards recommended to ensure accuracy and fairness, according to a new report issued by the Committee on Capital Punishment of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Based on a comparison of New York's existing statute to standards established by expert committees in Illinois and Massachusetts, the Committee urged New York lawmakers to thoroughly analyze the state's statute in light of emerging information about the high potential for wrongful conviction and unfairness in death penalty cases.