NEW RESOURCE: Study Examines Mental Status and Childhood Backgrounds of Juveniles on Death Row

A recent study of 18 juvenile offenders on death row in Texas found that nearly all participants experienced serious head traumas in childhood and adolescence, came from extremely violent and/or abusive families, had one or more severe mental illnesses, and had signs of prefrontal brain dysfunction. The study, conducted by Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis of Yale along with other experts, suggests that most of the juvenile offenders on America's death rows suffer from serious conditions which "substantially exacerbate the already existing vulnerabilities of youth." In the study, Dr. Lewis and her colleagues reviewed all available medical, psychological, educational, social, and family data for each participant to clarify the ways in which these various aspects of development may have diminished a juvenile offender's judgment and self control.

Wrongful Convictions Raise Concerns About New York's Death Penalty

In a recent op-ed in the Albany Times Union, criminal justice expert Scott Christianson asked that state leaders consider New York's well-documented problems with wrongful convictions before trying to fix the state's unconstitutional death penalty statute. Christianson, a former state criminal justice official, documented more than 130 cases (most of them involving convictions since 1980), in which innocent persons were convicted (mostly of murder) and sentenced to long prison terms in New York. Experts have found that from 1 to 10 percent of those convicted of a felony in New York are actually innocent, and these proven cases are "simply the tip of the iceberg," according to Christianson. He wrote further: "In the past, prosecutors didn't have to worry as much that their mistakes would ever come to light. Today, however, with the advent of DNA and possibly other definitive technologies, actual innocence in some cases threatens to become positively established even after an offender has been convicted or even legally executed. ... Any proven wrongful conviction can expose serious injustices and undermine respect for law enforcement."

Among Christianson's recommendations for addressing these concerns are reforms such as requiring a specific state agency to maintain a database of defendants who have been found wrongfully convicted and convening a blue-ribbon panel to hold public hearings and report its findings. Christianson also believes that New York should require the videotaping of police interrogations, overhaul its public defense system, and hold those involved in improperly prosecuting cases accountable for their actions. Based on the studies and data Christianson concluded, "The inevitability of error is just one reason why the death penalty is a bad idea. But it's one that fair-minded citizens . . . can understand."

Kansas Death Penalty Advisory Committee Releases Report

A recent report issued by the Kansas Judicial Council Death Penalty Advisory Committee examines the state's application of capital punishment and the hefty price tag of seeking the death penalty. The Committee found that since Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994 there were 44 potential capital cases involving minority victims. However, none of these cases resulted in a death sentence. Of the eight defendants in Kansas who did receive death sentences, all of their victims were white.

NEW RESOURCES: ACLU Report on International Implications of Capital Punishment in the U.S.

A new report by the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project discusses the United States' position on the death penalty in the face of international concerns regarding this practice. The report, How the Death Penalty Weakens U.S. International Interests, notes that many other nations are moving toward abolition of capital punishment and are critical of specific aspects of the death penalty in the U.S. Among the topics featured in this resource are the ongoing international efforts to abolish the death penalty, foreign intervention in U.S. capital cases, international

Excerpts from the Final Report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System

The following excerpts are from the death penalty chapter of the Final Report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System. The blue-ribbon Committee, appointed in 1999, used a wide variety of sources to draw its conclusions and formulate the recommendations found in its report.



The Committee made a series of 23 recommendations to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, to the Legislature, to the state's Attorney General and District Attorneys, and to Governor Ed Rendell. Among the key recommendations were a call for a moratorium on executions until the state can further analyze the impact of race on the death penalty, passage of a Racial Justice Act, statewide standards for prosecutorial discretion, and statewide standards for both trial and appellate lawyers in capital cases. (The complete list of recommendations may be found on Pages 219-221 of the report.)


Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment

The Overproduction of Death

Executive Summary

By Professor James S. Liebman


A Summary of the Columbia University Study by Prof. James S. Liebman


A Summary of the Columbia University Study by Prof. James S. Liebman
by the Death Penalty Information Center

The Study: