The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the execution of those who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime violates the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." The Court will likely hear arguments in the case of Roper v. Simmons , No. 03-633, this coming fall. The Justices have not visited this issue since 1989 and will likely decide whether there is now a national consensus against the practice of executing juvenile offenders. The Justices used a similar "evolving standards of decency" test when they ruled to forbid
On February 5th, Texas is scheduled to execute Scott Panetti, a mentally-ill man who defended himself at his trial despite the fact that he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Panetti was convicted of killing his parents-in-law in 1992, several years after he was first diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was hospitalized for mental illness in numerous facilities before the crime. Evidence suggests that Panetti was psychotic at the time of the shootings, and that he may not have been competent to
Former Kansas Republican state senator Tim Emert recently urged members of the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee to enact a moratorium on imposing the death sentence and executing those who have already been sentenced to die. Noting that capital punishment was his most troubling issue when he was a member of the Kansas legislature, Emert stated, "I came to the conclusion the only vote I could live with was a 'no' vote on the death penalty in Kansas. I could not, in my mind, be pro-life and pro death penalty." Emert's testimony before members of the Judiciary Committee took place
As it launched a global campaign to end the execution of juvenile offenders, Amnesty International released a new report entitled "Stop Child Executions! Ending the death penalty for child offenders." The report condemns the execution of those who commit crimes before reaching the age of 18, a punishment the organization calls a "heinous practice due to a greater awareness that children constitute a 'protected' class." In the report, Amnesty notes that only eight countries (the United States, China, the
Georgia has enacted legislation to undertake the defense of indigent persons charged with capital felonies for which the death penalty is being sought in any court in the state. The Office of the Multi-County Public Defender will become the Georgia Capital Defender Office in January 2005. The office is now seeking to fill key staff positions. "See Job Description" (Jan. 15, 2004); see also DPIC's report "With
The Chinese government is planning to implement judicial reforms that could sharply reduce its use of the death penalty. China will restrict the use of capital punishment by requiring its highest court, the Supreme People's Court, to review all death penalty cases before executions are carried out. Currently, the high court reviews only a minority of such cases, allowing the provincial courts that hand down death sentences to review their own judgments. "Criticism of the legal system in society is rising. The Chinese Communist Party, as a ruling party that attaches importance
After spending more than half of his life on Pennsylvania's death row for a crime he did not commit, Nicholas Yarris was released from prison on Friday, January 16. Yarris had been sentenced to death row in 1983 for the murder of Linda Craig and was cleared of all charges in December 2003 (see DPIC's press release) after DNA evidence excluded him from the crime. He remained jailed for weeks after he was exonerated while authorities recalculated sentences he received in
The Pacific island of Samoa has begun formal measures to abolish the death penalty. Samoa has not conducted an execution in more than 50 years, and death sentences that are still delivered by judges are always commuted to life imprisonment. As he introduced the statute to abolish the death penalty, Prime Minister Sailele Malielegaoi told parliament that the death penalty should not be on the law books if it is not going to be carried out. (ONE News and AAP, January 16, 2004) See International Death Penalty.
DPIC has prepared a new chart showing the number of death sentences in each state by year since 1977. As we have indicated elsewhere, the overall number of death sentences in the U.S. has declined markedly in recent years. For example, the 159 death sentences in 2002 were only HALF of the 320 sentences in 1996. Regionally, sentences in the West have dropped the most, from 66 in 1996 to 21 in 2002.
The Associated Press provided a description of the struggle to execute Ohio death row inmate Lewis Williams on January 14, 2004:
A convicted killer, struggling with guards and pleading for his life until the last moment, was executed Wednesday morning for the 1983 fatal robbery of a Cleveland woman.
Lewis Williams continued to profess his innocence even as he was carried into the death chamber by four guards.
"I'm not guilty. I'm not guilty. God, please help me," Williams said as he was strapped to the execution table.