A growing number of medical and legal experts are warning that the chemical pancuronium bromide, a commonly used lethal injection drug, could leave a wide-awake inmate unable to speak or cry out as he slowly suffocates. Advances in medicine have found that the drug, used by executioners to paralyze the skeletal muscles while not affecting the body's brain or nerves, can mask severe suffering.
When New Jersey enacted its death penalty law in 1982, it established a special unit of lawyers and experts for defendants facing capital charges. After two decades, the state has 14 individuals on death row. In contrast, when Pennsylvania enacted its death penalty law, the state failed to establish a similar system for assistance. For Pennsylvania, a state of comparable population to New Jersey, the result of this decision has been a death row population of 237 and a capital punishment system that is plagued by evidence of inadequate representation.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Pima County, Arizona have been the main jurisdictions in their respective states for death sentences in the past. Now they are sending considerably fewer people to death row or seeking the death penalty less. Philadelphia prosecutors have sought the death penalty 24 times since last September, but jurors from the city have not sent anyone to death row in more than a year. In fact, the city has only secured death sentences against 4 people since 2000.
A streaming video on the death penalty from the American Constitution Society's first National Conference August 1-3, 2003 in Washington, DC is now available. Participants included Joseph Curran, Attorney General of Maryland; Angela Davis, American University professor of law; John Gibbons, former Chief Justice of the 3d Circuit US Court of Appeals; Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama; and Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project.
"Poetic Justice: Reflections on the Big House, the Death House and the American Way of Justice" is Professor Robert Johnson's first collection of poems about prison and capital punishment. The collection explores the day-to-day life of prisoners and examines the emotional impact of serving time on death row. Johnson, a professor of justice, law and society at American University, is an award-winning author of several social science books on crime and punishment and has won the Outstanding Book Award from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. (Northwoods Press, 2003) See
The Death Penalty Information Center has added a new and versatile feature to its extensive Web site. Users may now search a fully functional "Executions Database" for detailed information on all executions in the United States in the modern era, 1977 to the present. The database enables users to search by year, by state, by race of defendant and victim, and by many other categories. For example, you can now find a list of all the executions in Texas involving white defendants, or a list of all the executions by electrocution since 1990.
A broad bi-partisan coalition of House and Senate lawmakers has introduced legislation to establish a five-year, $1 billion initiative to ensure DNA testing for death row inmates who claim innocence. The "Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Bill," supported by House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner and Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, includes an Innocence Protection Act (IPA) provision aimed at reducing the risk of wrongful convictions. Under this portion of the bill, all states applying for IPA grant funding must provide death row inmates with access to DNA testing.
By a vote of 4-3, the Florida Supreme Court has set aside an October 1st deadline for inmates to request DNA testing of evidence that could prove their innocence. The justices suspended the deadline while they consider the inmates' challenge to the rule's constitutionality. Arguments in the case are slated for November 7, 2003. According to the law that established the deadline, if inmates convicted prior to 2001 fail to file for testing before October 1, 2003, DNA evidence in their cases may be destroyed.
A recent North Carolina public opinion poll conducted for The News & Observer found that only 49% of voters polled approve of executions for those convicted of first-degree murder while 42% favor life in prison without parole as the punishment. Nine percent were unsure. The same poll registered 40% of respondents in support of a moratorium on executions and 53% in opposition to halting executions for two years while the state studies and fixes possible flaws in its death penalty system.
The Philadelphia law firm of Morgan Lewis recently celebrated the exoneration of John Thompson, who spent 18 years on Louisiana's death row before two of the firm's partners helped to win his freedom. Firm partners J. Gordon Cooney Jr. and Michael L. Banks provided Thompson with pro bono services that cost the firm $1.7 million in legal work and expenses over a 15-year period and involved 90 lawyers and support staff. According to the city's bar association, there is a massive need for additional lawyers to do more.