DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available
DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials. For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database. Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state. You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.
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RACE: Historic Civil Rights Suit Filed in Alabama Over Exclusion of Blacks from Jury Service
On October 19, five African Americans filed a federal civil rights lawsuit charging that Alabama has illegally excluded blacks from serving on death penalty juries in Houston and Henry Counties. The plaintiffs in this class action suit were all previously barred from serving on juries in capital or other serious felony cases. In each case, state courts found blacks were illegally excluded from jury service because of their race. Bryan Stevenson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, pointed particularly to the actions of District Attorney Douglas Valeska: "Mr. Valeska has repeatedly been found to have illegally excluded black people from jury service with peremptory strikes in capital cases but he continues the practice because most people don't know about it." He continued, "The underrepresentation and exclusion of people of color from juries has seriously damaged the credibility and reliability of the criminal justice system. Individual case reversals haven't stopped this illegal practice, so there must be greater accountability." The lawsuit alleges that, from 2006 to 2010, state prosecutors in Dothan used peremptory strikes to exclude 82% of qualified black jurors in death penalty cases. As a result, the jury in every death penalty case in Houston County over this period has been either all white or had only a single black juror, despite the fact that the circuit is nearly 25% African American. Houston County has the highest per capita death sentencing rate in Alabama.
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SUPREME COURT: Alabama Man Facing Execution Because Attorneys Left Without Filing Appeal
In one of the first cases of the new term, the U.S. Supreme Court on October 4 will hear from attorneys for death-row inmate Cory Maples of Alabama, whose appeal was rejected by lower courts because his lawyers quit and missed a critical filing deadline in his state appeal. Copies of an Alabama court ruling in his case were sent to a volunteer New York law firm handling his appeals but were returned unopened to the court because the attorneys representing Maples had left the firm. Maples did not find out about the ruling or the fact that his attorneys had left until the deadline to file his state appeal had expired. Gregory Garre, Maples' new attorney and former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, told the Court in a brief that the case "raises the shocking prospect that a man may be executed without any federal court review of serious constitutional claims due to a series of events for which all agree he was blameless.” Alabama's Solicitor General, John C. Neiman Jr., replied that, "Maples is unquestionably guilty of murdering two people, and his conviction is now 15 years old. He has received some sort of judicial review of every claim he has made." Maples was trying to challenge the competency of his original trial lawyers, who were inexperienced and offered only $1,000 each to prepare for his trial. They presented only 1 hour of testimony in his defense, and told the jury that they "may appear to be stumbling around in the dark." The case is Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63.
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NEW VOICES: Former Judge Changes Mind on Death Sentence as Execution Approaches
Retired Alabama Judge Loyd Little (pictured) recently changed his mind about a death sentence he imposed on Derrick Mason in 1995 for a murder during a convenience store robbery. Mason is scheduled for execution on September 22. Judge Little wrote a letter to be submitted to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley requesting that Mason's sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole. The judge explained the change in his thinking: "Years of experience and seeing so many other capital murder cases where it was imposed and where it was not imposed. . . . I realized it really was not the right decision." Judge Little had only been on the bench six months when he heard Mason's case. In Alabama, the jury makes only a recommendation regarding sentencing. The trial judge makes the actual life or death decision.
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NEW RESOURCES: 2011 DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available
The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" showed a slight increase of 9 inmates in the death row population in the United States between October 1, 2010 and January 1, 2011. However, death row is still significantly smaller now (3,251 inmates) than in 2000 (3,682 inmates). The size of death row also declined overall in 2010. The size of death row is affected by the number of death sentences and the number of executions. Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. Texas, Louisiana, and Connecticut had death rows consisting of 70% minority defendants. California continues to have the largest death row population (721), followed by Florida (398), Texas (321), Pennsylvania (219), and Alabama (206). California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years. The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.
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NEW VOICES: "Alabama Juries, Not Judges, Should Decide Death Sentences"
O.H. Eaton Jr. (pictured), who served as a judge for many years in Florida, recently wrote an op-ed in the Birmingham News calling for an end to Alabama's law that allows judges to override juries' sentencing recommendations in death penalty cases. Eaton, who presided over numerous capital cases during his 24 years on the bench, said that his experience convinced him that the practive of judicial override is unfair. Citing a report recently published by the Equal Justice Initiative, Eaton noted that one-fifth of Alabama's death row inmates face execution even though their juries believed they should have been sentenced to life in prison. He wrote, "While consistency in sentencing is the argument most often heard in support of judicial override, the evidence indicates that allowing judges to ignore jury recommendations actually leads to less consistency in sentencing rather than more. Some judges are more likely to override than others. Some counties are generally more supportive of the death penalty than others. So, a death sentence ends up depending on geography and luck of the judicial draw rather than the facts of the case." Eaton suggested a short-term solution of imposing a rigorous legal standard for allowing judicial override, but ultimately he recommended that juries should make the sentencing decision. Read full op-ed below.
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NEW RESOURCES: Judges in Alabama Imposing Death Sentences by Overriding Juries
A new report from the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama exposes the practice of state judges imposing death sentences by overriding a jury's recommendation for life. EJI's study found that judges in the state have overridden jury recommendations 107 times since 1976. In 92% of the overrides, judges overruled life verdicts to impose a death sentence. More than 20% of the defendants on Alabama's death row were sentenced through judge overrides. These sentences contribute to the high per capita death sentencing and execution rates in Alabama compared to the rest of the country. In Alabama, trial and appellate court judges are elected, often based on "tough on crime" platforms. The study found that the proportion of death sentences imposed by override often is elevated during election years. For example, in 2008, 30% of new death sentences were imposed through judge override, compared to only 7% in 1997, a non-election year. In Johnson v. Alabama--a case involving a judicial override--Justice Thurgood Marshall, wrote in dissent that "it approaches the most literal sense of the word 'arbitrary' to put one to death in the face of a contrary jury determination where it is accepted that the jury had indeed responsibly carried out its task."
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2011 Death Penalty Update
Between January and the end of June 2011, there were 25 executions in 9 states. During the same time period last year, there were 29 executions. Of the executions this year, 8 were carried out using the drug sodium thiopental, while 17 involved a new drug, pentobarbital. Earlier in 2011, Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, announced that it would no longer manufacture the drug, forcing states to search for foreign sources or alternative drugs for their lethal injections. Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina have used pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental in their executions in 2011. Ohio is the only one of those 7 states to use pentobarbital as the sole drug in its lethal-injection process. In the first half of 2011, 18 clemencies have been granted, commuting the defendant's death sentence to life without parole. Fifteen of the commutations were in Illinois, where Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill repealing the state's death penalty. The repeal goes into effect today, Juy 1. Seventy-six percent (76%) of the cases resulting in executions so far this year involved the murder of at least 1 white victim, even though generally whites are victims of murder less than 50% of the time.
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NEW RESOURCES: Most Recent DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available
The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,242 as of October 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row. Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (714), followed by Florida (394) and Texas (322). Pennsylvania (220) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country. California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years. Death Row USA is published quarterly by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.
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Update on Lethal Injection Issue
In a clear national trend, seven states (Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina) have used pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental in their executions in 2011. The most recent such execution was that of Donald Beaty in Arizona on May 25, following a temporary stay as the state made a sudden switch to the new drug. Ohio is the only one of the seven states to use pentobarbital as the sole drug in its lethal-injection process. At least five states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina) that acquired sodium thiopental through an overseas source have had the drug seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In addition, Arizona was instructed by the DEA not to use its foreign sodium thiopental just prior to the May 25 execution. Arkansas and California also have supplies of sodium thiopental originally obtained from a supplier in Great Britain. In Nebraska, questions about its supply of sodium thiopental--obtained from a company in India--has postponed the execution of Carey Dean Moore. South Dakota's sodium thiopental was also reportedly obtained from India. Other states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia have indicated they intend to switch to pentobarbital in future executions.
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