What's New

High Profile Delaware Defendant Spared the Death Penalty

Posted: February 7, 2006

Delaware state prosecutors announced that they will not seek the death penalty for Thomas Capano, a former millionaire influential in state politics who was convicted of murdering Anne Marie Fahey.  Capano will instead face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. "Every criminal case has a natural end. We have reached that point in this case. I am satisfied that justice is served by having Thomas Capano spend every day of the rest of his life in prison," said Deleware Attorney General Carl C. Danberg.


NEW RESOURCE: Stanford Psychologists Study Impact of Executions on Prison Staff

Posted: February 7, 2006
An article in the Science section of the N.Y.

NEW RESOURCES: Constitution Project Releases Updated Death Penalty Reform Recommendations

Posted: February 3, 2006
The Constitution Project's blue-ribbon Death Penalty Initiative released a new report, "Mandatory Justice: The Death Penalty Revisited," an updated set of guiding principles for reform of death penalty systems. The group is comprised of current and former FBI officials, state attorneys general, religious leaders, victims of crime, academics, legal experts, and community leaders.  They identified specific improvements to address problems such as arbitrariness, race, ineffectiveness of counsel, wrongful convictions, and crime lab mistakes.

NEW RESOURCES: Amnesty International's Report on Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

Posted: February 3, 2006

A new report issued by Amnesty International found that at least 10% of the first 1,000 people executed in the United States since 1977 were severely mentall ill. The report noted that the National Association of Mental Health estimates that between five and 10% of the 3,400 people on death row around the country are mentally ill. Amnesty said that states are failing to address serious mental health issues before crimes occur.


ABA Assessment Report Calls for Georgia Death Penalty Moratorium

Posted: February 2, 2006
A new report by the American Bar Association Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project found that Georgia's death penalty fails to meet 43 ABA standards for improving the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty.

NEW VOICES: Legislator Who Pushed for Faster Executions Now Has Changed His Mind

Posted: February 1, 2006

Pennsylvania State Representative Michael McGeehan, a tough-on-crime lawmaker from Philadelphia, who earlier had pushed for expedited executions, now regrets that stance.  He is sponsoring legislation that would compensate those who have been wrongly convicted. McGeehan's bill, which would also immediately expunge a wrongly convicted person's criminal record, was prompted by his outrage at the number of people who have been wrongly convicted and released from prison.


NEW VOICES: California Judge Seeks Clemency for Man He Sentenced to Death

Posted: January 31, 2006

More than two decades after Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath condemned Michael Morales to die, McGrath is asking California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency because the conviction was likely based on false testimony from a jailhouse informant. Morales is scheduled to be executed on February 21. McGrath's letter was included in a clemency petition filed by Morales' attorneys, David Senior and Kenneth W. Starr, dean of Pepperdine Law School and a former federal judge.


NEW RESOURCE: Researchers Retest the Deterrence Studies

Posted: January 26, 2006

A new edition of the Stanford Law Review contains an article entitled Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate.  The article examines and performs comparison tests on recent studies that have claimed a deterrent effect to the death penalty.  Authors John J. Donohue of Yale Law School and Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania state their goal and conclusions:

(O)ur aim in this Article is to provide a thorough assessment of the statistical evidence on this important public policy issue and to understand better the conflicting evidence.
Our estimates suggest not just “reasonable doubt” about whether there is any deterrent effect of the death penalty, but profound uncertainty.
We are led to conclude that there exists profound uncertainty about the deterrent (or antideterrent) effect of the death penalty; the data tell us that capital punishment is not a major influence on homicide rates, but beyond this, they do not speak clearly. Further, we suspect that our conclusion that econometric studies are highly uncertain about the effects of the death penalty will persist for the foreseeable future.
Aggregating over all of our estimates, it is entirely unclear even whether the preponderance of evidence suggests that the death penalty causes more or less murder.


NEW VOICES: Former Ambassador to France Addresses Impact of Death Penalty on Foreign Relations

Posted: January 26, 2006

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Felix G. Rohatyn (pictured), the U.S. Ambassador to France from 1997 to 2001, noted that during his tenure "no single issue was viewed with as much hostility as our support for the death penalty." Rohatyn urged the U.S. to consider the impact of maintaining capital punishment on our relations with our allies, and he stated that consideration of international trends is appropriate when cases are reviewed by the Supreme Court. Rohatyn wrote:


U.S. Supreme Court Stays Florida Lethal Injection

Posted: January 25, 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Clarence Hill in Florida just minutes before his execution was to take place on January 24.  The next day, the Court made the stay permanent until they could hear Hill's challenge to the lethal injection procedures in Florida.  Hill raised a civil rights claim (section 1983) stating that the chemicals used in lethal injection could inflict severe and unnecessary pain.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected his use of the civil rights law and required that his claim be considered as part of his regular (habeas corpus) death penalty appeal.  They then rejected the claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari and has ordered that briefings be completed by April 17.  In an earlier case, Nelson v. Campbell (2004), challenging parts of the lethal injection procedures in Alabama, the Court allowed the inmate to proceed with his civil rights claim. 

The two questions the Court agreed to hear are:

"1. Whether a complaint brought under 42 USC Sec. 1983 by a death-sentenced state prisoner, who seeks to stay his execution in order to pursue a challenge to the chemicals utilized for carrying out the execution, is properly recharacterized as a habeas corpus petition under 28 USC Sec. 2254?

"2. Whether, under this Court's decision in Nelson, a challenge to a particular protocol the State plans to use during the execution process constitutes a cognizable claim under 42 USC Sec. 1983?"

The case is Hill v. Crosby, No. 05-8794. (See Associated Press; Lyle Denniston on SCOTUSBLOG, Jan. 25, 2006).  See also Methods of Execution and Supreme Court.