Members of an American Bar Association Assessment Team have urged Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to extend the state’s current moratorium on executions so that a more thorough review of the state’s capital punishment laws can be conducted. The seven-member team also offered 14 recommendations to address problems identified during their review of Tennessee’s death penalty. Racial and geographic disparities in capital cases, poorly trained defense attorneys, heavy caseloads for those representing defedants, and inadequate procedures to address innocence claims, were among the areas of concern mentioned in their report.

Among the recommendations were calls for an independent commission to consider innocence claims, implementation of a policy that would ensure preservation of DNA evidence in capital cases, improved training for capital defense attorneys, and implementation of a law that would protect those with serious mental disabilities from facing execution.

In February 2007, Governor Bredesen called for a 90-day halt to executions to give the state time to consider concerns about how inmates are put to death by lethal injection and electrocution. That moratorium is scheduled to end on May 2, and the state has scheduled an execution for May 9.

“Governor Bredesen clearly has given sober consideration to how executions are carried out in Tennessee. Now it is time for him and for the state as a whole to devote even more thorough analysis to how the state reaches the decision to sentence someone to death,” said ABA President Karen J. Mathis.

The Tennessee assessment team included a former prosecutor, a federal judge, defense attorneys, and lawyers in private practice. The ABA has issued similar reports in five other states: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Indiana. In the coming months, assessment teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania are expected to complete their state reviews and issue their findings.

(The Tennessean, April 23, 2007, and ABA Tennessee Death Penalty Assessment Team Report - Executive Summary, April 2007). Read the Executive Summary. Read the Full Report. See also Studies, Representation, Race, and Lethal Injection.
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