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.

TESTIMONY-- Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Critical Review of New Evidence

Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Critical Review of New Evidence contains the testimony of Professor Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University Law School that he delivered to the New York State Assembly's Standing Committees on Codes, Judiciary, and Correction on January 25, 2005. Read the testimony in PDF Format (145k).

ABA Study Faults Inadequate Legal Defense Across the Country

A new American Bar Association study has found that thousands of suspects, including some who are later given death sentences, risk wrongful conviction because they are pressured to accept guilty pleas or have incompetent attorneys. After surveying 22 states, the ABA committee leading the study stated that legal representation for indigent defendants is in "a state of crisis."

NEW RESOURCE: Study Finds Innocence Issue Leads to Lower Death Penalty Support

Three-quarters of Americans believe that an innocent person has been executed within the last five years and that conviction is resulting in lower levels of support for the death penalty, according to a study published in the February issue of Criminology & Public Policy. The study, conducted by researchers James D. Unnever of Radford University and Francis T. Cullen of the University of Cincinnati, found that support for capital punishment was significantly lower among both blacks and whites who believe the death penalty is applied unfairly.  Only 68.6% of respondents support the death penalty among those who believe an innocent person has been executed, versus 86.9% of the respondents who do not believe any innocent person has been executed. When life in prison without the possibility of parole was offered as an alternative sentence for capital murder, less than half of all Americans who believe an innocent person has been executed supported the death penalty. The researchers analyzed data collected by the Gallup Organization to conduct the study. Criminology & Public Policy is an academic journal published by the American Society of Criminology.

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."