Blue Ribbon Panel Recommends Extensive Changes to Death Penalty

On May 7, the Constitution Project released a new report, Irreversible Error, calling for reforms in many aspects of the death penalty system. The Project’s Death Penalty Committee, which consists of renowned experts on capital punishment, made suggestions for reducing the risk of executing the innocent and improving the fairness of capital cases from arrest and interrogation, through prosecution and appeals, to the execution procedure itself. “Without substantial revisions — not only to lethal injection, but across the board — the administration of capital punishment in America is unjust, disproportionate and very likely unconstitutional,” said committee member Mark Earley, a Republican and former Attorney General of Virginia. Among the 39 recommendations in the report were increased access and improved standards for forensic testing, videotaping of interrogations in homicide investigations, and exemptions for the severely mentally ill. In capital sentencing, the report recommended requiring a unanimous jury vote for death before a death sentence could be imposed. Virginia Sloan, President of the Constitution Project, said, “Some of the members of the Committee believe that the range of punishments may include death; others do not. But they all agree that no one should be denied basic constitutional protections, including a competent lawyer, a fair trial and full judicial review of any conviction and sentence. The denial of such protections heightens the danger of wrongful conviction and sentencing.”

(“Irreversible Error,” Constitution Project, May 7, 2014). See Studies and Innocence. See previous reports on the death penalty from the Constitution Project.