On October 13, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two capital cases from Texas in which the defendant was sentenced to death after the jury was given instructions that the Court has since found unconstitutional. Unlike in most states where the jury considers a range of aggravating and mitigating circumstances about the crime and the defendant before choosing a sentence of life or death, in Texas the jury was (the law has since been modified) given a series of yes-or-no questions about the crime and the future dangerousness of the defendant. In prior cases, the Supreme Court has said that such a mechanism does not allow full consideration of a person's mental disabilities, which should be counted as a mitigating factor. In the cases recently accepted, the trial judges instructed the jury that they could simply answer "no" to one of the factual questions if they did not want to sentence the person to death, even though the proper answer based on the facts should be "yes." In both of the new cases taken by the Court, the defendants were sentenced to death using this "nullification" instruction, and their appeals were denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from Texas death row inmate LaRoyce Smith even though they had reviewed his case once before. On October 6, 2006, the Court granted certiorari to decide whether the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had applied the wrong standard after the Supreme Court had sent Smith's case back to them earlier.
The dispute does not involve Smith's 1991 conviction for the murder of a Taco Bell manager in Dallas. Rather the Supreme Court held (7-2) in 2004 that Texas' jury instructions did not allow the jury sufficient latitude to consider Smith's low IQ and other mitigating evidence. But instead of giving Smith a new sentencing hearing, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in March that the fault in the jury instructions was negligible because it did not cause "egregious harm" to Smith's right to a fair trial, and thus upheld Smith's death sentence. Texas has changed the way the jury is instructed in capital cases, but the change was not in effect for Smith's sentencing.
Edward Johnson is a former FBI Agent who currently oversees investigative work for the Union County (NJ) Prosecutor's Office. He recently expressed his personal opinions about the state's death penalty. He concluded that in New Jersey public opinion may now have moved to the point where the death penalty will be abolished. He noted, in part:
At a joint press conference held by the European Commission (EC) and the Council of Europe, Vice-President Franco Frattini of the EC stated that "the administration of State killing via the judicial system serves no useful purpose in preventing crime but can have a brutalising effect on societies that inflict it".
Their press release marking this occasion noted that considerable progress has been made towards abolishing the death penalty:
There [has] been constant progress towards worldwide abolition. There are at present 128 countries that are abolitionist in law and practice. Over 40 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. They include countries in Africa (recent examples include Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire), the Americas (Canada, Paraguay, Mexico), Asia and the Pacific (Philippines, Bhutan, Samoa) and Europe and Central Asia (Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey, Turkmenistan). In 2005, countries having abolished death penalty were 86, while in 1977, only 16 countries were abolitionist.
As part of DPIC’s ongoing mission to serve the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment, we have developed a resource center for students. This page will assist students wishing to do explore issues surrounding the death penalty. There are ideas for debates and research papers as well as links to connect students with academic resources on capital punishment. The new link answers frequently asked questions, such as DPIC’s stance on the death penalty and how to cite information from the DPIC Web site.
Corey Maye was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Prentiss, Mississippi, on the day after Christmas in 2001. The police officer was part of a drug raid on a neighbor's apartment. Maye claims that the police broke into his duplex unannounced and that he fired his gun in defense of himself and his 18-month-old daughter. Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Michael Eubanks recently ruled that Maye was entitled to a new sentencing hearing because his defense counsel provided inadequate representation. The judge said that he would rule later on Maye's motion for a new trial or a verdict of not guilty. The case also has racial overtones because Maye is black and the police officer who was killed, Ron Jones, was white and the son of the town's police chief.
LETHAL INJECTIONS: Executions in California Carried Out in a Dark and "Chaotic" Atmosphere--Federal Judge Asks for Further BriefingPosted: October 4, 2006
A Los Angeles Times article on the recent hearings in federal District Court regarding the California's lethal injection process was entitled "The Chaos Behind California Executions." Excerpts from the article follow:
On October 10th, 2006,
Christopher Slobogin of the University of Florida's Law School has written a new book about the state's legal authority to deprive people with mental disabilities of life or liberty. The book discusses a number of well known cases such as that of John Hinckley and Andrea Yates. It also includes discussion of laws dealing with the insanity defense, the death penalty, commitment of sexual predators, and hospitalization of people considered unable to make rational decisions. The book advances new ways of thinking and calls for a complete revamping of the insanity defense, the abolition of the guilty but mentally ill verdict, and a prohibition on execution of people with mental disability.
One attorney's appeal brief on behalf of a Texas death row inmate was so poorly written that State District Judge Noe Gonzalez of Edinburg wrote that "Applicant totally misinterprets what actually occurred in this case." A committee of citizens and attorneys filed a complaint about the appellate lawyer with the State Bar of Texas, but nothing was done: the lawyer remains on the state's list of approved death penalty attorneys, and the client remains on death row.