NEW VOICES: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Calls for Review of State's Death Cases

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer recently said all current death row cases should be reviewed to discern which ones warrant execution and which ones should be commuted to life in prison without parole. “There are probably few people in Ohio that are proud of the fact we are executing people at the same pace as Texas,” Justice Pfeifer said. “When the next governor is sworn in, I think the state would be well served if a blue-ribbon panel was appointed to look at all those cases.” Justice Pfeifer was one of three Republican state senators who led the effort to reinstate the death penalty in Ohio in 1981 after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the old law unconstitutional. Pfeifer emphasized that the point of the review was to decide if death is the appropriate punishment for those presently on death row, predicting that if the majority of the old cases were tried today under current law and societal standards (including the availability of life without parole sentences), they would not result in capital punishment. He also said, “the number of people we have accumulated on death row has been rather staggering. It’s improbable that all of those are going to be executed.” Ohio only sentenced one person to death in 2009, but is currently executing inmates at a rate of one per month.

Ohio has had more executions since 1999 than any state outside of the South. The state has approximately 161 people on death row.

(A. Johnson, “Death Row cases should be reviewed, justice says,” Columbus Dispatch, May 15, 2010). See New Voices and Arbitrariness.