Legislative Activity - Tennessee


  • Tennessee Legislature Overwhelmingly Approves Death Penalty Study By a vote of 79-14, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation creating a study commission to examine the state's death penalty system. A similar measure unanimously passed the state's Senate in May, just one month after the American Bar Association issued a report finding that the state was not in full compliance with most of the benchmarks established to guarantee a fair death penalty system. The new commission will consist of representatives from the House, Senate, and Governor's administration, as well as prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims' advocates, and representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The commission members are expected to review Tennessee's death penalty system for one year following their appointment. Stacy Rector, Executive Director the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, noted, “Tennessee’s death penalty system is dangerously broken, and the legislature should be commended for acknowledging these flaws and taking steps to fix them. . . . Tennessee has a death row of over 100 individuals and the largest legal organization in the country has said that we do not even have the proper mechanisms in place to guarantee that we do not execute an innocent person. Tennesseans deserve a system we can trust, and our current system doesn’t meet that standard.” (Press Release, Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, June 7, 2007). Read the TCASK Press Release.


  • Tennessee House Judiciary Committee Unanimously Approves Study Commission Bill The Tennessee House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would establish a commission to thoroughly review the state's death penalty system and provide lawmakers with reform recommendations that address any problems identified by members of the commission. The commission would consist of representatives appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen (pictured), the Senate, and the House, and would include prosecutors, defense attorneys, mental health advocates, and victims advocates. A poll conducted by the Global Strategies group revealed that 66% of Tennesseans would approve an extension of the temporary hold on executions imposed earlier by the governor, who had received a letter from more than 200 faith leaders in the state urging him to take steps that would ensure the accuracy and fairness of the state's death penalty. In addition, the American Bar Association urged Governor Bredesen to extend the state's moratorium on executions to allow time for a closer examination of concerns identified during a recent ABA study of Tennessee's capital punishment system. "[I]t's encouraging that the General Assembly is taking steps to address the serious flaws in Tennessee's capital punishment system," said Rev. Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing.  (Eyewitness News - Memphis, May 2, 2007). A federal District Court in Tennessee granted a stay to Philip Workman, but the stay was lifted by the 6th Circuit.  He is scheduled to be executed May 9.


  • Tennessee Issues New Lethal Injection Protocols; Court Challenges and ABA Objections Continue Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (pictured) lifted the moratorium on executions that he imposed in February after accepting revised death penalty protocols submitted by the Tennessee Department of Corrections just days before the next execution. Though the new procedures include more detailed guidelines for carrying out lethal injections, the state will continue to use a controversial three-drug "cocktail" and exclude doctors from participating, meaures that some say risk severe and unnecessary pain. Legal challenges to the lethal injection process continue. In February 2007, Gov. Bredesen expressed concerns about the manner in which executions were carried out in the state and ordered a halt to executions until May 2. He directed the Tennessee Department of Corrections to conduct a "comprehensive review of the manner in which death sentences are administered. . . and provide [the governor] new protocols and related written procedures in administering death sentences in Tennessee." In April, the American Bar Association issued a review of Tennessee's death penalty and urged Bredesen to extend the state's moratorium on executions "to permit a thorough review of every aspect of capital punishment administration in the state." The ABA noted that the review should include an examination of "excessive caseloads and inadequate standards for defense counsel" and "racial disparities and inadequate review of death row inmates' claims of actual innocence." Tennessee has scheduled the execution of Philip Workman for May 9. (Jurist Legal News & Research, May 1, 2007). Read the revised Tennessee Death Penalty Protocols. Read the Executive Summary of the ABA's study.


  • The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the case of Abdur'Rahman v. Bredesen in which the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the state's lethal injection procedure is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court's action is no reflection of their opinion on the matter of lethal injection. The Justices are currently reviewing a separate case that asks whether inmates can use a federal civil rights law to challenge lethal injection procedures. That case is scheduled for decision by the end of June. (Bloomberg News, May 22, 2006).