DPIC's 12th annual Year End Report was released on December 14 and reveals a broad decline in the use of the death penalty in the U.S. based on a number of factors: the public now favors life without parole over the death penalty; the number of executions has dropped to the fewest in a decade, in part because of challenges to the lethal injection process; and the annual number of death sentences is now at a 30-year low. The report notes that various states have put a hold on all executions, while others are reviewing problems in the capital punishment system. The report cites a number of new developments, including the challenges posed by the severe mental illness of many on death row, and quotes a series of law enforcement personnel, editorials, and public officials voicing serious concerns about the death penalty.
Although no jury has returned a death sentence in a federal case in Puerto Rico in modern times, more cases are pending, raising concerns among many citizens. Puerto Rico bars the death penalty in its constitution. However, a U.S. Court of Appeals decision in 2001 held that the federal death penalty can be applied there. This decision overturned a lower court that ruled the use of the federal death penalty in the Commonwealth would be unconstitutional. The issue has not been reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. "It’s still an open issue for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide," said death penalty counsel William Matthewman. Opponents of the death penalty point to the fact that American Indian tribes get to choose whether the federal death penalty applies on their land.
The Albany Democrat-Herald in Oregon recently editorialized that the "death penalty isn't working," and concluded "that the death penalty here is a pointless law. If we’re not going to apply this law, then getting rid of it would be the less expensive course." The editorial cited the possibility of error, the arbitrariness of applying the punishment to some dangerous offenders but not others, and the difficulty of ever getting to an execution as reasons for ending capital punishment. The editorial follows:
The Death Penalty Subcommittee of the Committee on Public Defense of the Washington State Bar has prepared a report on the state's death penalty that will be submitted to the Bar Association's Board of Governors in early 2007. The Subcommittee was formed to examine the costs of the state's death penalty and to recommend whether the death penalty should be continued, given the expenses and the state's experience in carrying out death sentences. The Death Penalty Subcommittee was made up of supporters and opponents of the death penalty, all with extensive experience with the criminal justic
The Bureau of Justice Statistics has just released the 2005 version of its annual report on the death penalty in the U.S. The report notes that both the number of death sentences and the size of death row were down for 2005, and that this represents a trend over the past 5 years. The report states that there were 60 executions in 2005, all by lethal injection, and that the time between sentencing and execution was longer in 2005 than in 2004.
On December 5, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania introduced legislation (S. 4081) to restore the right to habeas corpus to those deemed to be enemy combatants and who are facing trial before military commissions, including those being detained at the U.S. Guantanamo prison in Cuba. Habeas corpus provides an avenue for inmates in detention to challenge the constitutionality of their confinement. The roots of this protection go back to early English law and the right to habeas corpus is guaranteed in the U.S.
Recently in Ohio and other states, some inmates challenging the lethal injection process in federal courts have been given stays of executions, while others, similarly situated, have been denied stays and have been executed. This inconsistent application of federal law in capital cases has raised concerns among a number of federal judges. A stay was recently granted to Ohio inmate Jerome Henderson, but denied to Jeffrey Lundgren. On December 6, U.S.
Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights will release a new report on December 10 entitled “Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.” Families of the executed are victims, too, according to the new report, which draws upon the stories of three dozen family members of inmates executed in the United States and demonstrates that their experiences and traumatic symptoms resemble those of many others who have suffered a violent loss.
“I don’t think people understand what executions do to the families of the person being executed,” says Billie Jean Mayberry, one of the family members featured in the report. Mayberry’s brother, Robert Coe, was executed in Tennessee in 2000. “To us, our brother was murdered right in front of our eyes. It changed all of our lives.”
“Creating More Victims” includes recommendations for mental health professionals, educators, and child welfare advocates. MVFHR also plans to deliver the report to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and request that that office undertake further study of the impact of executions on surviving families.
Stays have been granted in two of the three executions that had still been scheduled for December. On December 1 in Ohio, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit granted a stay of execution to Jerome Henderson, whose execution had been scheduled for December 5. Henderson was allowed to join a challenge to the state's lethal injection protocol. The 6th Circuit denied the state's request to rehear the issue, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to lift the stay. (Associated Press, Dec. 5, 2006).
According to the November 2006 edition of the Texas Bar Journal published by the State Bar of Texas, the State Bar has adopted a Texas version of the American Bar Association's Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. The introduction to the Texas Guidelines follows: