"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.
Former FBI Director William Sessions recently called on prosecutors and law enforcement officials to support broader access to DNA testing to address growing concerns about innocence. Sessions' comments in an op-ed in The Washington Post came just weeks after Kirk Bloodsworth, the nation's first death row inmate to be freed based on DNA testing, was informed that Baltimore County authorities had genetically linked another suspect to the crime using DNA evidence. Sessions stated:
Eight years after the death penalty was reinstated in New York, the number of death sentences sought by prosecutors has sharply declined. According to the New York Capital Defender Office, the number of death penalty notices filed has dropped from a record-high 14 in 1998 to just two so far in 2003. Howard R. Relin, a long-time district attorney in Rochester and death penalty supporter, noted: "D.A.'s are being more and more careful in making that determination.
After U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft authorized a federal death penalty prosecution against two Massachusetts men accused of a gang murder, the local Suffolk County District Attorney, Daniel F. Conley, objected to using capital punishment to end urban violence, stating, "I do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent or appropriate punishment for inner-city homicide.
The Washington Post recently responded to Judge Jane Marum Roush's decision allowing Virginia to seek the death penalty for Lee Boyd Malvo despite treaties forbidding such a sentence for juveniles. The paper's editorial noted that while the judge's decision may be legally correct, it "does not render Virginia's (juvenile death penalty) policy any less abhorrent." The editorial went on to state: