What's New

National Conference of Chief Justices Criticizes Bill to Cut Death Penalty Appeals

Posted: August 8, 2005
The Conference of Chief Justices overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging Congress to not pass the proposed Streamlined Procedures Act, which is aimed at curtailing death penalty appeals. The resolution was passed by the Chief Justices from state courts around the country at their annual meeting in Charlestown, South Carolina. Only the chief justice of Texas' Supreme Court voted against the resolution, stating that he did not have enough time to review the document.

Murders in New York City Reach Historic Lows Without Use of the Death Penalty

Posted: August 8, 2005

Homicide figures for New York City show that the number of murders in 2005 may fall below 500, a figure that would be the fewest since 1961 and would bring the city's murder rate below the rate for the nation as a whole.  So far this year, random murders and murders committed during robberies and burglaries have also declined. Experts note that both declines appear to be largely attributable to a greater police presence, fewer guns, and the decrease in random violence in the city that came with the waning of the crack epidemic.


NEW VOICES: Justice Stevens Harshly Critical of the Death Penalty

Posted: August 7, 2005

Speaking at the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Awards Dinner in Illinois, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said that the death penalty has "serious flaws."  He recalled the late Justice Marshall in remarking how much the country has learned about the risks in death cases: "Since his retirement, with the benefit of DNA evidence, we have learned that a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously," Stevens said during the ceremony.  He added that Supreme Court cases have revealed that "a significant number of defendants in capital cases have not bee


DNA Testing Leads to the Exoneration of Another Prisoner In Case Involving Mistaken Eyewitness Testimony

Posted: August 3, 2005

In a case that sharply illustrates the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, Miami-Dade prosecutors plan to ask a state judge to vacate the convictions of Luis Diaz based on DNA evidence that was not available during his 1980 trial. Though he was shorter and lighter than the man that most witnesses described to police, Diaz was charged with rape 25 years ago after eight women identified him as their attacker. Following his trial, the judge said, "I've never seen a case where I was more convinced of a man's guilt." Two decades later, two of the victims came forward saying that Diaz had not been their attacker, and one of the women claimed she chose his picture from a photo spread only because police had pressured her to select one of nine photographs.

Only two DNA samples remained from the original trial. Both were from the same man and not from Diaz.  Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project that initiated the testing in Diaz's case, stated that about 75% of the exonerations since the advent of forensic DNA testing in 1989 have hinged on mistaken eyewitness identification.

Diaz said that he has spent much of his time in prison reading the Bible and that he hoped to get to know his grandchildren when he is released.


Expert Testimony Faults Death Penalty Deterrence Findings

Posted: August 3, 2005

In testimony before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary regarding proposed legislation to initiate a "foolproof" death penalty, Columbia Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan (pictured) analyzed recent studies that claimed that capital punishment deters murders.  He stated that the studies "fall apart under close scrutiny." Fagan noted that the studies are fraught with technical and conceptual errors, including inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key state


Convictions Overturned In Pennsylvania and New Jersery through DNA Testing

Posted: August 2, 2005

Thomas Doswell of Pennsylvania and Larry Peterson of New Jersey recently had their convictions overturned as a direct result of DNA testing.  Each defendant had serverd 18 years in prison.  In Peterson's case, the prosecution had sought the death penalty but the jury could not agree and he was sentenced to life.  His case marked the first time a New Jersey court has overturned a conviction because of DNA evidence.  Both reversals stemmed from the work of attorneys at the Innocence Project of the Benjamin Cardoza School of Law in New York City.

Though he has consistently maintained his innocence, Doswell was convicted of the 1986 rape of a nursing home employee. After a request for DNA testing filed by the Innocence Project, a Common Pleas court judge ordered evidence from the crime scene tested and the results cleared Doswell of any involvement in the crime. He was released from prison following the state's withdrawal of charges. In 1999, Doswell had filed a motion with the court to allow DNA testing, but a judge ruled in favor of prosecutors who challenged the motion because it was filed three weeks too late. "Really, this could have been taken care of in 1999. . . . I don't see it as a victory. It's a major loss of 18 years that nobody can compensate; nobody can give back. This is a guy who got railroaded," said one of Doswell's attorneys, James DePasquale. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 30, 2005; Associated Press, Aug. 2, 2005).


NEW RESOURCE: Dedication Scheduled for National Death Penalty Archive

Posted: July 28, 2005

The dedication of the National Death Penalty Archive at the State University of New York at Albany will take place on August 9, 2005.  Hugo Bedau of Tufts University will keynote the program, which will also feature William J. Bowers, Scott Christianson, David Kaczynski, and Michael Radelet. The Archive is a partnership between the Capital Punishment Research Initiative at the School of Criminal Justice and the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Albany Libraries. This collection of historical materials is an excellent resource for scholars, students, and members of the public who are interested in the history of capital punishment in America and in the legal and political battles related to the death penalty. Among other resources, the collection includes The Hugo Adam Bedau Papers, The William J. Bowers/Capital Jury Project Collection, The Alvin Ford Collection, and The Joe Ingle/Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons Papers. It also includes a program of oral history interviews featuring prominent activists and professionals involved in death penalty work.


Attempt to Strip the Federal Courts' Review Power in Death Penalty Cases Meets Conservative Opposition

Posted: July 28, 2005
The following article by Henry Weinstein appeared in the Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2005:

(DPIC Note: The Senate Judiciary Committee put off markup of the Streamlined Procedures Act, probably until September.  Also, see Letter from former Attorneys General and prosecutors opposing this legislation.)

Bid to Speed Death Penalty Appeals Under Fire
Conservatives and former prosecutors are among foes of a bill, before a

Protecting Human Life Should be at Least as Important as Protecting Property Rights

Posted: July 28, 2005

In a recent Washington Post column, Richard Cohen compared the deep objections voiced by many Americans after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that communities can condemn property in distressed areas to make way for economic development to the tepid reaction to strong evidence that a Missouri man may have been wrongly executed for a crime he did not commit. Cohen, noting that it seems "far easier for the government to wrongfully take a life than a parcel of run-down real estate," wrote:

The city of New London, Conn., narrowly (5 to 4) won the right last month from the Supreme Court to condemn a parcel of land in a distressed part of the town to make way for economic development. The ruling has generated a tsunami of objection and an effort in many states and localities to have its effects undone . . . .

At the same time, in a far different area of the law, authorities are wondering if two men long ago convicted of murder might be innocent. This has generated almost no interest, no nationwide protest movement, suggesting that in this country it is far easier for the government to wrongfully take a life than a parcel of run-down real estate. Is this a great country or what?