News

Timing Of IQ Test Can Be A Life Or Death Matter

Science Daily Magazine
December  6, 2003

(NOTE:  The original American Psychologist article states 12 of the 350 executed had IQs of 70 or below.  The Science Daily Magazine article reported 112.  The following text corrects that typographical error.)

Timing Of IQ Test Can Be A Life Or Death Matter

The year in which IQ is tested can make the difference between life and death for a death row inmate. It also can determine the eligibility of children for special services, adults' Social Security benefits and recruits' suitability for certain military careers, according to a new study by Cornell University researchers.

That's because IQ scores tend to rise 5 to 25 points in a single generation. This so-called "Flynn effect" is corrected by toughening up the test every 15 to 20 years to reset the mean score to 100. A score from a test taken at the end of one cycle can vary widely from a score derived from a test taken at the beginning of the next cycle, when the test is more difficult, says Stephen J. Ceci, professor of human development at Cornell.

Ceci and his current and former graduate students, Tomoe Kanaya and Matthew Scullin, found, for example, that the number of children recommended for special services for mild mental retardation tripled during the 1st 5 years of a new test compared with the final 5 years of an old test, despite the fact that there were no real changes in underlying intelligence.

"Our findings imply that some borderline death row inmates or capital murder defendants who were not classified as mentally retarded in childhood because they took an older version of an IQ test might have qualified as retarded if they had taken a more recent test," Ceci says.  "That's the difference between being sentenced to life imprisonment versus lethal injection."

The study is published in the October issue of American Psychologist (Vol. 58, No. 10, pp. 778-790), a journal of the American Psychological Association. Co-author Kanaya is a fourth-year graduate student in human development and is the first author. Scullin, Cornell Ph.D. '01, is now an assistant professor of psychology at West Virginia University and is the second author.

The researchers analyzed IQ data from almost 9,000 school psychologist special education assessments in nine school districts across the country to document how the resetting of the IQ test influences mental retardation diagnoses for several years after a new test is introduced.

The consequences of taking intelligence tests at the end or beginning of a test's cycle are most critical, however, when determining whether a death row inmate is mentally competent.  Of the 350 people executed since 1990, 12 were known to have IQ scores of 70 or below (the cutoff for mental retardation).

Among children, the researchers found nearly a six-point difference between those taking the 2 tests. "This variance can make the difference between a child being diagnosed as mentally retarded or not," Ceci says.  "This study shows for the 1st time that 2 children in the same classroom with the same cognitive ability could be diagnosed differently simply because different test norms were used for each child."

The researchers report that perhaps tens of thousands of  children could be affected by these IQ trends over the course of  their school years, with far-reaching financial implications. "Our results imply that millions of taxpayers' educational dollars may be misallocated because students are being misdiagnosed every year that an IQ test ages," Ceci points out.

A diagnosis of mental retardation also determines whether a person is eligible for Social Security disability benefits. And the year in which a military recruit takes an IQ test can determine whether he or she is eligible for service or certain occupations and ranks.

"Caution must be used when IQ scores are used to base important financial, social or legal decisions. It may not be sufficient to simply look to see if an IQ score is below some cutoff point," concludes Ceci. "The most important times to be particularly careful are when the test is either at the beginning or the end of its cycle."

The research was supported, in part, by a grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation to Ceci.

Original Article found here.

Back to Intellectual Disability


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Excerpts from the Final Report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System

The following excerpts are from the death penalty chapter of the Final Report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System. The blue-ribbon Committee, appointed in 1999, used a wide variety of sources to draw its conclusions and formulate the recommendations found in its report.


KEY RECOMMENDATIONS
CONCLUSIONS
OTHER ITEMS

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

The Committee made a series of 23 recommendations to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, to the Legislature, to the state's Attorney General and District Attorneys, and to Governor Ed Rendell. Among the key recommendations were a call for a moratorium on executions until the state can further analyze the impact of race on the death penalty, passage of a Racial Justice Act, statewide standards for prosecutorial discretion, and statewide standards for both trial and appellate lawyers in capital cases. (The complete list of recommendations may be found on Pages 219-221 of the report.)


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Racial Disparities in Federal Death Penalty Prosecutions 1988-1994
Staff Report by the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights
Committee on the Judiciary
One Hundred Third Congress, Second Session
March 1994
prepared with the assistance of the Death Penalty Information Center

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Summary
The Federal Death Penalty
Pace of Prosecutions Increasing
Background on Race and the Death Penalty
Conclusion
Appendix: Federal Death Penalty Prosecutions, 1988-94

 

 


"Twenty years have passed since this Court declared that the death penalty must be imposed fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or not at all, and, despite the effort of the states and courts to devise legal formulas and procedural rules to meet this daunting challenge, the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice, and mistake."

--Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Feb. 22, 1994 [1]


 

Summary

Racial minorities are being prosecuted under federal death penalty law far beyond their proportion in the general population or the population of criminal offenders. Analysis of prosecutions under the federal death penalty provisions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [2] reveals that 89% of the defendants selected for capital prosecution have been either African-American or Mexican-American. Moreover, the number of prosecutions under this Act has been increasing over the past two years with no decline in the racial disparities. All ten of the recently approved federal capital prosecutions have been against black defendants. This pattern of inequality adds to the mounting evidence that race continues to play an unacceptable part in the application of capital punishment in America today. It confirms Justice Blackmun's recent conclusion that "the death penalty experiment has failed."

The Federal Death Penalty

Since the Supreme Court's 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia,[3] the death penalty has been almost exclusively a state prerogative. Congress has so far not adopted the general sentencing procedures that would reinstate the federal death penalty. No federal executions have been carried out since 1963 and, until very recently, prosecutions under federal death penalty law were rare. But that began to change over the past few years, and can be expected to change dramatically if the House adopts pending legislation to restore generally -- and expand -- the federal death penalty.

In 1988, President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. This legislation included a provision, sometimes referred to as the "drug kingpin" death penalty, which created an enforceable federal death penalty for murders committed by those involved in certain drug trafficking activities. The death penalty provisions were added to the "continuing criminal enterprise" statute first enacted in 1984, 21 U.S.C. SS 848. The drug trafficking "enterprise" can consist of as few as five individuals, and even a low-ranking "foot soldier" in the organization can be charged with the death penalty if involved in a killing.

As the first enforceable federal death penalty adopted after Furman, SS 848 offers a forewarning as to how a general federal death penalty might be applied. This report, prepared with the assistance of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. and with case data from the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, examines the application of SS 848.

Three-quarters of those convicted of participating in a drug enterprise under the general provisions of SS 848 have been white and only about 24% of the defendants have been black. [4] However, of those chosen for death penalty prosecutions under this section, just the opposite is true: 78% of the defendants have been black and only 11% of the defendants have been white. (See Fig. 1). Although the number of homicide cases in the pool that the U.S. Attorneys are choosing from is not known (the Justice Department has not responded to Congressional inquiries for that data), the almost exclusive selection of minority defendants for the death penalty, and the sharp contrast between capital and non-capital prosecutions under SS 848, indicate a degree of racial bias in the imposition of the federal death penalty that exceeds even pre-Furman patterns.

Federal regulations require that local U.S. Attorneys obtain the personal written authorization of the Attorney General of the United States before proceeding with a capital prosecution. So far, former Attorneys General Thornburgh and Barr, and present Attorney General Reno have approved capital prosecutions against a total of 37 defendants under the 1988 "kingpin" law. Twenty-nine of the defendants have been black and 4 have been Hispanic. All ten of the defendants approved by Attorney General Reno for capital prosecution have been black. Judging by the death row populations of the states, no other jurisdiction comes close to this nearly 90% minority prosecution rate.[5]

Pace of Prosecutions Increasing

The pace of these prosecutions has been substantially increasing over the past two years. Although widely touted during the 1988 election year as a "tough" response to drug crime, there were only seven defendants prosecuted under this Act in the first three years after its passage and only one death sentence handed down. However, in 1992 alone, capital prosecutions against fourteen defendants were announced and another five death sentences resulted from these cases. Since January, 1993, sixteen more prosecutions have been announced. [6] (See Fig. 2).

The underlying crimes for which these defendants are being prosecuted are not excusable because the offenders are members of minorities. But the statistics raise the question of why these cases were chosen out of the large number of drug-related homicides over the past five years. By way of comparison, the proportion of African-Americans admitted to federal prison for all crimes has remained fairly constant between 21% and 27% during the 1980s, while whites accounted for approximately 75% of new federal prisoners. [7] Yet, when it comes to the federal death penalty, the scales dramatically tip the other way.

The federal government employed the death penalty for a variety of crimes prior to the 1972 Furman decision. But the racial breakdown was also just the opposite from current death penalty prosecutions. Between 1930 and 1972, 85% of those executed under federal law were white and 9% were black. The dramatic racial turnaround under the drug kingpin law clearly requires remedial action.

Although challenged at a Congressional hearing to provide an explanation for such racial disparities, and asked by the Chairman of this Subcommittee for data on potentially capital cases referred to Washington for approval by federal prosecutors, the Justice Department has offered no response.[8]

It is worth noting that some of the death penalty prosecutions under SS 848 have been against defendants who do not seem to fit the expected "drug kingpin" profile. In a number of cases, the U.S. Attorneys have sought the death penalty against young inner-city drug gang members and relatively small-time drug traffickers. [9] In other cases, the death penalty was returned against those directly involved in a murder, while the bosses who ordered the killings were given lesser sentences. [10]

Background on Race and the Death Penalty

Throughout American history, the death penalty has fallen disproportionately on racial minorities. For example, since 1930 nearly 90% of those executed for the crime of rape in this country were African-Americans.[11] Currently, about 50% of those on the nation's death rows are from minority populations representing 20% of the country's population.

In 1972, the United States Supreme Court overturned existing death penalty statutes in part because of the danger that those being selected to die were chosen out of racial prejudice. As the late Justice Douglas said in his concurrence overturning the death penalty:

[T]he discretion of judges and juries in imposing the death penalty enables the penalty to be selectively applied, feeding prejudices against the accused if he is poor and despised, and lacking political clout, or if he is a member of a suspect and unpopular minority, and saving those who, by social position, may be in a more protected position. [12]

Following the Furman decision, legislatures adopted death sentencing procedures that were supposed to eliminate the influence of race from the death sentencing process. However, evidence of racial discrimination in the application of capital punishment continues. Nearly 40% of those executed since 1976 have been black, even though blacks constitute only 12% of the population. And in almost every death penalty case, the race of the victim is white. (See Fig. 3). Last year alone, 89% of the death sentences carried out involved white victims, even though 50% of the homicides in this country have black victims.[13] Of the 229 executions that have occurred since the death penalty was reinstated, only one has involved a white defendant for the murder of a black person.

Race of the victim discrimination was singled out by the U.S. General Accounting Office in its report "Death Penalty Sentencing" which concluded that studies showed:

[The] race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks. [14]

This record of racial injustice played a significant part in Justice Harry Blackmun's recent decision to oppose the death penalty in every case. "Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes," said Blackmun, "race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die." [15]

Conclusion

Race continues to plague the application of the death penalty in the United States. On the state level, racial disparities are most obvious in the predominant selection of cases involving white victims. On the federal level, cases selected have almost exclusively involved minority defendants.

Under our system, the federal government has long assumed the role of protecting against racially biased application of the law. But under the only active federal death penalty statute, the federal record of racial disparity has been even worse than that of the states. So far, the number of cases is relatively small compared to state capital prosecutions. However, the numbers are increasing, and under legislation currently being considered in Congress, the federal government would play a much wider role in death penalty prosecutions.

 


APPENDIX

FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY PROSECUTIONS, 1988-94[*]

Following enactment of the first modern federal death penalty statute on November 18, 1988, 21 U.S.C. SS848(e)-(q) (the so-called "drug kingpin" murder provision), the Bush and Clinton Administrations have approved death penalty prosecutions under SS 848 against 37 defendants. Of these, four defendants were white, four were Hispanic, and twenty-nine were black. All 10 of the defendants approved for capital prosecution by Attorney General Reno, and all 15 defendants now awaiting federal death penalty trials or currently on trial, are African-American.

Federal Capital Cases Tried to Date

The federal death penalty cases brought to trial during 1989 -1994 by the Bush and Clinton Administrations are listed below:

  • A white Alabama marijuana grower named Ronald Chandler, was sentenced to death for the murder for hire of a subordinate in his drug ring. Chandler's convictions and death sentence were affirmed by a panel of the Eleventh Circuit July 19, 1993; a petition for writ of certiorari is now pending before the United States Supreme Court. Claiming innocence, Chandler refused a pretrial plea bargain offer for life without possibility of parole. United States v. Chandler, 996 F.2d 1073 (11th Cir. 1993).
  • Three of four young black inner-city gang members in Richmond, Virginia, were sentenced to death on February 16, 1993, for their roles in eleven crack-related murders. United States v. Tipton et al., 3-92-CR68 (E.D. Va.). The trial of a fourth defendant, Vernon Thomas, was severed. On April 23, 1993, moments before a scheduled hearing on Mr. Thomas's motion to bar the death penalty due to his mental retardation, the government withdrew its request for the death penalty. Mr. Thomas was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • A Hispanic drug distributor was sentenced to death by a jury on August 2, 1993 in Brownsville, Texas, in connection with the murders of three other drug traffickers in the Brownsville area. United States v. Juan Raul Garza, No. CR 93-0009 (S.D. Tex.). Attorney General Barr authorized the prosecution to seek the death penalty in December, 1992. Mr. Garza's appeal is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
  • Two Hispanic defendants in Texas were sentenced to life imprisonment and forty years, respectively, for the marijuana-related murder of a state police officer after a joint trial. The sentencing jury found no facts legally warranting the death penalty. United States v. Reynaldo & Baldemar Villarreal No. 9:91CR4 (E.D. Tex. 1991), aff'd, 963 F.2d 725 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 113 S.Ct. 353 (1992).
  • Two black Chicago gang members received life sentences for cocaine-related murders after separate trials. The Government had offered one defendant, but not the other, a plea bargain prior to trial. United States v. Alexander Cooper & Anthony Davis, No. 89-CR-0580 (N.D. ILL. 1991).
  • A white Mafia contract killer received a life sentence from a Brooklyn, New York jury after being convicted of eight murders, three of which qualified as capital crimes under 21 U.S.C. SS 848. United States v. Pitera, 5 F.3d 624 (2d Cir. 1993).
  • A young black New Jersey gang member committed suicide during his federal capital trial. United States v. Bilal Pretlow, No. 90-CR-238 (D.N.J.).
  • One Hispanic and two white defendants were tried jointly in connection with the drug-related kidnap/murder of a Muskogee, Oklahoma auto dealership employee. United States v. Hutching et al., No. CR-032-S (E.D. Okl.). The two capitally-charged "managers" of the drug enterprise received life sentences from the jury, while the lowest-level defendant, John McCullah (who, unlike the bosses, had been present at the killing) was sentenced to death on March 23, 1993.

Federal Capital Prosecutions Not Yet Tried:

Capital prosecutions initiated since early 1992 which are still pending (either as capital or noncapital cases) in federal district courts involve indictments charging:


The Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project is aware of 7 cases, involving 16 defendants, in which the death penalty is reported to have been authorized by Attorney General Reno or announced since she took office. All 16 defendants are African-American. Three of the cases have been brought in jurisdictions (New York, Michigan, and the District of Columbia) which do not have capital punishment statutes. The cases are:

  • Two black New Orleans inner-city gang members, in connection with an allegedly drug-related murder. United States v. Green & Brown, E.D. La. No. 92-46. On November 24, 1992, the Government dropped its request for the death penalty in this case.
  • One black Tampa, Florida drug distributor, for having allegedly ordered a murder in retaliation for the theft of drugs. United States v. Mathias, (M.D. Fla. No. 91-301-CR-T-17(A)). Trial is set in this case for February 2, 1994.
  • One black Atlanta drug distributor in connection with three murders. United States v. Williams, No. 1:92-CR-142 (N.D.Ga.). No trial date is set as yet.
  • Two black crack cocaine dealers in Macon, Georgia, in connection with the murders of two other crack dealers. United States v. Tony Chatfield and Arleigh Carrington, (M.D. Ga. No. 92-82MAC-WDC). Attorney General Barr authorized this death prosecution in his last week in office. On December 6, 1993, the government dropped its request for the death penalty against these two defendants.
  • United States v. Reginald Brown et al., (E.D.Mich.Cr. No. 92-81127). This case reportedly involved six death authorizations against members of a cocaine distribution organization alleged to be responsible for a total of twelve murders over a 4-year period. The initial authorization occurred during the Bush Administration, but the authorizations were not announced until June, 1993. Only three of the six defendants against whom the death penalty has been authorized are currently in custody. One defendant, Terrance Brown, has been found dead, apparently a homicide victim.
  • United States v. Darryl Johnson, (W.D.N.Y. Cr. No. 92-159-C-S), involving two alleged cocaine-related killings by a Buffalo, New York group. Trial is not anticipated before the fall of 1994.
  • United States v. Wayne Anthony Perry (D.C.D.C. No. 92-CR-474), an alleged hitman for a D.C. cocaine distribution ring; eight homicide counts. Trial is set for February 8, 1994.
  • United States v. Michael Murray, (M.D.Pa. Cr. No. 1:CR-92-200), involves the killing of a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania drug dealer by a gang headed by one Jonathan Bradley. DOJ reportedly declined to approve the U.S. Attorney's request to authorize the death penalty against Bradley, who allegedly ordered the killing, and against another participant in the shooting, Emmanuel S. Harrison.
  • United States v. Edward Alexander Mack et al., (S.D. Fla. 93-0252-CR-Ungaro-Benages), involves two drug-related murders in the course of a Miami drug trafficking operation. Three defendants are facing the death penalty in this case; trial is not anticipated until the latter part of 1994. Attorney General Reno authorized this capital prosecution in early January 1994.
  • United States v. Jean Claude Oscar et al., (E.D.Va. 93 CR 131) involves three capitally charged defendants and two crack-related murders in Norfolk, Va. Attorney General Reno authorized this capital prosecution in November 1993.
  • United States v. Todd Moore, (E.D. Va. 1994), the prosecution of this black defendant in Norfolk, Va. was announced March 8, 1994.

References

[1] Callins v. Collins, No. 93-7054 (1994) (Blackmun, J., dissenting) (Supreme Court denial of review).

[2] 21 U.S.C. 848(e)-(q).

[3] 408 U.S. 238 (1972).

[4] U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report: Prosecuting Criminal Enterprises, , at 6, Table 10 (convictions 1987-90) (1993).

[5] See NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Death Row, U.S.A., January 1994 (death rows by state with racial breakdowns).

[6] Prosecutions against 10 defendants were approved by Attorney General Reno, including at least one in 1994. Prosecutions against 6 other defendants were approved in the previous Administration, but were not announced until June, 1993.

[7] Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 1991, at table 6.78, p. 644 (1992).

[8] On October 21, 1993, Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC) asked then Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann for an explanation of the racial disparities in capital prosecutions during the course of a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the Administration's crime bill. Mr. Heymann promised a reply in two weeks. To date, Rep. Watt has received no response to his inquiry. Death Penalty Information Center phone conversation with Rep. Watt's office, Feb. 28, 1994.

During the same hearing, Rep. Craig Washington (D-Tex.) remarked to Mr. Heymann that "if some redneck county in Texas had come up with figures like that, you'd been down there wanting to know why." See Federal Death Penalty Update, Newsletter of Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, January, 1994.

[9] See, e.g., United States v. Tipton et al., 3-92-CR68 (E.D. Va.) (prosecution of four young black inner-city gang members in Richmond, Va.); United States v. Bilal Pretlow, No. 90-CR-238 (D.N.J.) (a young black New Jersey gang member who committed suicide during his trial); United States v. Chandler, 996 F.2d 1073 (11th Cir. 1993) (prosecution of rural Alabama marijuana grower in murder-for-hire scheme).

[10] See, e.g., United States v. Hutching et al., No. CR-032-S (E.D. Okl.) (two "managers" of the drug enterprise received life sentences for murder while lower level defendant who was present at the murder was sentenced to death); United States v. Michael Murray, Cr. No. 1: CR-92-200 (M.D. Pa.) (Dept. of Justice reportedly declined to approve the U.S. Attorney's request to authorize the death penalty against the gang leader, Jonathan Bradley, whom the indictment alleges ordered the killing. A death sentence is being sought against Murray who was 19 years old at the time of the incident.). Information obtained from the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project report, Feb. 15, 1994.

[11] U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Capital Punishment, 1981 (1982).

[12] Furman v. Georgia, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 2735 (1972) (Douglas, J., concurring).

[13] See, e.g., S. LaFraniere, FBI Finds Major Increase in Juvenile Violence in Past Decade, Washington Post, Aug. 30, 1992, at A13 (half of U.S. murder victims are black).

[14] U.S. General Accounting Office, Death Penalty Sentencing 5 (Feb. 1990) (emphasis added).

[15] Callins v. Collins, No. 93-7054 (1994) (Blackmun, J., dissenting).

[*] Case data provided by the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, Columbia, SC.


 


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Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment

Read the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment Report

DPIC Press Release: ILLINOIS COMMISSION ANNOUNCES NATION'S MOST COMPREHENSIVE DEATH PENALTY REVIEW; RECOMMENDS SWEEPING CHANGES TO PROTECT INNOCENT, ENSURE FAIRNESS

BACKGROUND MATERIALS

ADDITIONAL LINKS

The Death Penalty Information Center has assembled the following press materials and Web links to provide easy access to information regarding the work of the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment, a blue-ribbon panel that has recently completed the nation's most comprehensive state review of the death penalty. The Commission's findings and recommendations will surely capture the attention of lawmakers and legal experts throughout the nation who are watching closely to track the impact of this review beyond Illinois. The Commission's recommendations aim to address problems Illinois Governor George Ryan identified two years ago, including potential safeguards to prevent the possible conviction and execution of innocent inmates.

BACKGROUND MATERIALS

Two years ago, Illinois Governor George Ryan appointed a 14-member Commission on Capital Punishment to closely examine Illinois's death penalty, and he declared the nation's first moratorium on executions until the review was completed. A milestone moment in America's quest for a fairer justice system, Ryan's step helped spark an unprecedented series of events throughout the country. Prior to forming this commission, the Governor declared that his state's death penalty was fraught with error, noting: "[The Illinois capital punishment system is] so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state's taking of innocent life."

Since Ryan's call for a review of the death penalty in Illinois, many governors from coast to coast have voiced concerns about the fairness of their states' systems, and nine states have launched comparable studies of capital punishment policies. In addition, legislatures in nearly every state retaining the death penalty considered reform legislation, and an escalating number of communities and organizations are calling for a halt to executions until capital punishment concerns are addressed.

TIME LINE (pdf)

INNOCENT IN ILLINOIS (pdf)

NEW VOICES (pdf)

ADDITIONAL LINKS

Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions

The Illinois Death Penalty Education Project

American Bar Association's Death Penalty Representation Project


Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty

DPIC's Innocence Page


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The Overproduction of Death Executive Summary

By Professor James S. Liebman

There is growing evidence that more people are being sentenced to death than deserve to die under existing laws. The judicial system is, in other words, "overproducing" death. This conclusion is underscored by the findings of "A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973 -1995" in which Professor Liebman and colleagues at Columbia University reported that the overall rate of prejudicial error in the American capital system was 68%. On retrial, where results are known, 82% of those reversals resulted in sentences less than death; 7% resulted in acquittals.

More recently, a Department of Justice study showed that even as laws meant to speed the time from conviction to execution have gone into effect, the amount of time prisoners are spending on death row has increased - to 12 years on average.

Our capital punishment system is sending more people to death row. More of those people are later being removed from death row. And those still on death row are there for longer than ever before.

In addition, even as the number of people sent to death row is rising, and the number of executions climbs, the percentage of those being executed remains minuscule, and about what it's been for decades. More executions, in other words, do not mean we're "getting it right" more often. Instead, many of the states that send the most people to death row execute the lowest proportion of those waiting to die; the more death sentences, the more mistakes, the more reversals, and the more broken the system.

Professor Liebman's landmark work, "A Broken System," and other studies and reports have documented the profound flaws in the means by which people are sentenced to death. "The Overproduction of Death" tries to explain why this is so.

"The Overproduction of Death" develops a rational explanation for the pervasive and persistent irrationality of the system, a system in which the checks and balances of justice have broken down.

A number of factors work in favor of death sentences that often will not be carried out, and in favor of executing people who may not deserve to die. These factors include prosecutorial overcharging and overreaching, chronically incompetent defense counsel, weak supervision by trial judges, mis-instructed jurors, and expensive appeals by an overburdened review system that does a poor job of finding defendants who are innocent of a capital crime, and of disciplining faulty trial actors. Laws intended to decrease appeals and speed executions are unlikely to solve the problem, because overburdened courts and slow-moving appeals are only a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

The article suggests two key factors are at work:

  • Prosecutors and lower courts have large incentives to seek and impose the death penalty, even when it's not appropriate - and few reasons not to seek the death penalty. They therefore generate more death sentences than are warranted by the nature of the crimes and the evidence of who is at fault.
  • The relatively small handful of committed capital defense attorneys shy away from trials, keeping them from deterring ill-advised and faulty death sentences. They focus instead on the latter stages of a relatively small number of death penalty appeals. Because so many death verdicts are flawed, their appeals often succeed, creating procedural blocks to an effective death penalty system.


The first factor stems from unchecked zeal to put egregious offenders away for good. The desire of police and prosecutors to stop heinous criminals from offending again is understandably strong - as it should be - assuming checks and balances keep the impulse focused on real offenders. Many involved in death penalty cases have political and professional ambitions - prosecutors want to become district attorneys, who want to become judges or attorneys general, all of whom want to get re-elected. Having "tough on crime" credentials, including death penalties one has secured, helps. Because faulty sentences are overturned later - often much, much later - those securing death sentences rarely have to face the consequences of an excess of zeal or a poorly conceived or carried-out conviction and sentence.

The second factor aggravates and helps explain the first. Our adversarial system assumes that zealous prosecutions are checked by zealous defense lawyers. By instead focusing litigation and attention on the appellate level of death penalty cases, death penalty opponents have helped create a system in which the real testing of capital charges takes place after the trial. This decreases the incentives for those at trial to get it right. Like the spell-check function on our computers, the strategy decreases the need to hit the right keys initially. This second factor is also aggravated and explained by the first: The more capital charges prosecutors bring, the harder it is for the small number of committed opponents to intervene in every case. Other qualified defense lawyers simply cannot afford to get involved, given how little states pay them for the work. And the more errors police and prosecutors make in securing death sentences in weak or close cases, the greater the inducement for death penalty opponents to attack the resulting verdicts in appeals.

The result is a system that is perverse. It is immensely expensive because it requires multiple layers of repetitive substantive deliberation, it is bad crime control because it garbles the deterrent and retributive message of a death sentence, it paralyzes the courts because of the number of cases they are forced to review and repeat, it forces victims' families to relive the horrors of brutal crimes and prevents the closure they seek, and it inevitably imprisons the innocent and leaves the guilty on the streets.

Whatever one thinks of the death penalty, any system that generates two duds for every keeper - and requires over a decade to find it - is irrational.

Later this spring, Professor Liebman and his colleagues will release the second part of "A Broken System" in which these and other hypothesis are tested using multi-variate regressions and other statistical tools. # # #

You can order a coplete copy of "The Overproduction of Death" from the Columbia Law Review web site - http://columbialawreview.org/information/backissues.cfm


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A Summary of the Columbia University Study by Prof. James S. Liebman

A BROKEN SYSTEM: ERROR RATES IN CAPITAL CASES 1973-1995

A Summary of the Columbia University Study by Prof. James S. Liebman
by the Death Penalty Information Center
 

The Study:

This is a statistical study of capital cases funded by the Columbia University School of Law. The study was conducted by Professor James S. Liebman of Columbia University School of Law, Professor Jeffrey Fagan of Joseph Mailman School of Public Health and Valerie West, a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology, New York University.

The report examined 5,760 capital cases between 1973 and 1995 and concludes that American capital sentences are persistently and systematically fraught with error that seriously undermines their reliability. The report reveals that serious error has reached epidemic proportions in capital cases. More than two out of every three capital judgments reviewed by the courts during the 23 year study period were found to be seriously flawed.

Central Findings:

- Nationally the overall rate of prejudicial error in capital cases was 68% - i.e., courts found serious reversible error in nearly 7 out of 10 capital cases that were fully reviewed during the study period.

- Capital trials produce so many mistakes that it takes three judicial inspections to catch them, leaving doubt whether we do catch them all. After state courts threw out 47% of death sentences due to serious flaws, a later federal review found "serious error" (error undermining the reliability of the outcome) in 40% of the remaining sentences.

- Of the 2,370 death sentences thrown out due to serious error, 90% were overturned by state judges, many of whom were the very judges who imposed the death sentence in the first place. However, a substantial number of the capital judgments they let through to the federal stage were still seriously flawed.

- The most common errors (prompting a majority of reversals at the state post-conviction stage) were (a) incompetent defense lawyers who failed to look for or recognize important evidence of innocence or mitigating factors; and (b) police or prosecutors who suppressed evidence.

- High error rates put people at risk of wrongful execution. 82% of the people whose capital judgments were overturned by state post-conviction courts due to serious error were found to deserve a sentence less than death when the errors were cured on retrial. 7% were found to be innocent of the capital crime.

- The capital review procedure took a national average of 9 years from death sentence to the last inspection and execution. By the end of the study period, the average time needed to make sure death verdicts were free of serious error had risen to 11 years.

- As a result of high error rates, and resulting high reversal rates and lengthy review of procedures, fewer than 5% of all death sentences imposed during the 23-year period between 1973 and 1995 were carried out in that period.

- High error rates exist across the country. Over 90% of American death-sentencing states have overall error rates of 52% or higher. Three-fifths have error rates of 70% or higher.

- Illinois (which announced a moratorium on all executions) does not produce an unusual number of faulty death sentences. The overall rate of serious error found in Illinois capital sentences (66%) is slightly lower than the national average (68%).

Implications of Central Findings

- Capital trials and sentences cost more than non-capital ones. The error detection system all this capital error requires is itself a huge expense, apparently millions of dollars per case.

- Many of the resources consumed by the capital system do not help to obtain the valid death sentences that the majority support. Large amounts of resources are being wasted on cases that should never have been capital in the first place.

- This much error and the time taken to cure it impose terrible costs on taxpayers, victims' families, the judicial system and the wrongly condemned. It also renders unattainable the finality, retribution and deterrence that are the reasons often given for having a death penalty.

- When the condemned person turns out to be innocent the costs are immeasurable; to the wrongly convicted person and his or her family; to the family of the victim whose search for justice and closure has been in vain; to later victims whose lives are threatened or taken because the real killer is still at large; to the public whose confidence in the legal system is shaken; and to the wrongly executed, should the mistake not be caught in time.

Conclusion

The study shows a capital punishment system collapsing under the weight of its own mistakes. If one measures the "success" of the death penalty system by the amount of capital sentences which result in executions then this 23-year-study shows that the system is not a success, and is not even minimally rational.

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Race and the Death Penalty in North Carolina

Race and the Death Penalty in North Carolina
An Empirical Analysis: 1993-1997

 

Principal Investigator
Dr. Isaac Unah

 

Principal Collaborator
Prof. Jack Boger Presented by The Common Sense Foundation North Carolina Council of Churches
April 16, 2001

 

 


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A Broken System II: Why There Is So Much Error in Capital Cases, Questions and Answers

A Broken System II:
Why There Is So Much Error in Capital Cases

Questions and Answers


Professor James Liebman and colleagues at Columbia University recently released "A Broken System II: Why There Is So Much Error in Capital Cases," the follow-up to their groundbreaking, "A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases 1973 - 1995."

Professor Liebman and the other members of the Columbia team of researchers have made themselves available to answer press inquiries about their study. According to the Columbia web site, such inquiries should be directed to Hayley Miller, 212-854-2604.

Answers to frequently asked questions about the study are provided below.

Q: How is this study different from the previous study?
A: The previous study, "A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases 1973 - 1995" determined the numbers and types of errors made in death penalty trials while this study, "A Broken System Part II: Why There Is So Much Error in Capital Cases, and What Can Be Done About It" identifies those factors that lead to the high error rates.

The first study, "A Broken System I," simply counted the number of death penalty appeals and the number of reversals, and divided to determine the error rate. The study also looked at the reason the court gave for those reversals, and added them up.

This second study, "A Broken System II" has more to say about what kind of mistakes get made and explores why those mistakes get made - what conditions exist to create these errors? The study uses a number of statistical tests to identify those factors that lead to high error rates in capital cases. It also explores some potential solutions to those problems.

Q: What was the goal of this study?
A: The goal of the study was to identify factors that lead to the high error rate in death penalty trials and appeals.

The study found 76% of the state and federal reversals at the two appeal stages where data are available were because of egregiously incompetent defense lawyers, police or prosecutor misconduct, or misinformed and biased judges or juries. 82% of those retried after their death verdicts were reversed at the second of three appeals (or, during the state post-conviction appeal) were given a sentence less than death, and 9% of those retried - nearly one in ten - were found innocent.

This study tried to find out why. What is it about some states or counties that lead them to have higher error rates than others? Why do some areas have better lawyers, judges and juries than others? This study attempts to answer those questions, and to identify what - if anything - can be done to solve those problems.

Q: What was the main finding of this study?
A: The more often states and counties sentence people to death, the more often they get it wrong.

This study uncovered a number of conditions related to error in capital cases, including politics, race, crime control and the courts. But running through all the data was a simple finding - the more a state or county sentences people to death, the more often they make mistakes. This isn't just a matter of numbers, this is about percentages. Everything else being equal, when death sentencing increases from the lowest to the highest rate in the study, the reversal rate increases six-fold, to about 80%. The more often states and counties use the death penalty for every, say 10 or 100 homicides, the more likely it is that any death verdict they impose will later be found to be seriously flawed, and the more likely it is that the defendant who was found guilty and sentenced to die will turn out to be not guilty.

Q What are the factors that lead to these errors?
A: In addition to aggressive death sentencing, there are four key factors which lead to errors: homicide risk to whites and blacks; the size of the black population; the rate at which police catch and punish criminals; and politically motivated judges. There are three additional important findings: heavy use of the death penalty not only leads to errors but drives up costs and slows down all courts; shoddy work at the initial trial leads to mistakes; and the problem isn't getting better over time.

Everything else being equal, when the risk of a white person getting murdered is high relative to the risk of an African-American getting murdered, twice as many appeals are reversed than where that risk is low. The study's best explanation of why this occurs is that when whites and other influential citizens feel threatened by homicide, they put pressure on officials to punish to punish as many criminals as severely as possible - with the result that mistakes are made, and a lot of people are initially sentenced to death who are later found to have committed a lesser crime, or no crime at all.

The more African-Americans there are in a state, the more likely it is that serious mistakes will be made in death penalty trials. This could be because of fears of crime driven by racial stereotypes and economic factors.

It is disturbing that race plays a role in the outcome of death penalty cases, whatever the reasons.

The lower the rate at which states catch, convict and punish serious criminals, the higher the error rates. Everything else being equal, states that put one offender in prison for every 100 serious crimes (100 FBI Index Crimes) committed in the state have about 75% of their death sentences reversed. But states that put four offenders in prison for every 100 serious crimes only have an error rate of about 36%, and those states that catch and punish the most criminals only make mistakes in death penalty trials about 13% of the time. States that do a bad job of catching and convicting criminals also make a lot of mistakes at death penalty trials. This may be because if a state doesn't catch many criminals, officials are under pressure to prove they are tough on crime by trying to punish those they do catch as severely as possible. When this leads to additional death sentences, many of which are flawed, the overall result is that no more criminals are caught, crime remains high, and the person they attempted to sentence to death almost always winds up with a lesser more appropriate sentence, or is later found to be innocent.

The more often, and more directly, state trial judges are subject to popular election, and the more partisan those elections are, the higher the rate of serious error. Judges who face elections keep one eye on justice and one on the polls - and when push comes to shove, the polls often win.

There are several other key findings.

Heavy use of the death penalty prevents the entire criminal justice system from doing its job. Death penalty trials are long and complex, and as already indicated, having many death penalty trials leads to many errors and more trials. These trials upon trials drive up costs, divert resources and prevent the courts from doing their job as effectively and efficiently. In states with more than 20 verdicts under review, the appellate process often comes almost entirely to a halt.

Bad trials lead to mistakes. This seems obvious - without the resources to do it right the first time, courts must try and get it right the second or third time. In the meantime, all trials are slowed, victims are left in limbo, and tax dollars keep getting spent.

The problem isn't getting better over time. After considering the influence of all the other factors discussed above, direct appeal reversal rates increased 9% a year during the study period. This means that reforms based on the factors known to lead to capital error may not work because other factors that are not as easy to pinpoint and fix may continue to push capital error rates substantially higher.

Q: How did the researchers select the appeals they examined?
A: The researchers did not select appeals - they examined the outcome of every death penalty appeal from 1973 - 1995, more than 5,400 state and federal appeals.

Rather than attempt to sample death penalty appeals, which would invariably lead to bias or error, the authors examined every single death penalty appeal over a 23-year period and reported the decision reached by the state or federal court that reviewed the death penalty for serious error.

Q: Why did the study only look at completed trials and appeals?
A: By looking at completed trials and appeals, the study eliminated guess-work and bias.

By looking only at those trials and appeals that have been completed, the study avoids speculation, guess work and bias. Only by examining a job after it's done can one determine how well or badly the job was done - which is why batting titles are only given after the baseball season is over. A lot of players hit .500 on opening day, only to end the season with a far lower average. By looking only at those cases that are closed, the study looked only at batters who had completed the season. If the study had guessed what the appeals under review will look like, they would be declaring a lucky player a star, and miss the truly great ball player. Court decisions are all subject to review and reconsideration and only by looking at completed appeals can the outcome of the painstaking process of court review be known.

Q: How did the researchers select the variables to test in their analysis?
A: A careful survey of legal, criminological and sociological research identified conditions that might conceivably be associated with capital error rates. The authors went through a careful process of testing each condition separately and in conjunction with others to see if they were in fact related to capital error rates.

Those who study crime, punishment and public safety have explored a host of factors that may lead to violence and violence prevention. Rather than reinvent the wheel, or try to independently determine what may or may not impact trials, the authors used the variables experts in the field use. The authors then tested each condition separately, and also in conjunction with other factors, through a statistical technique called regression analysis, to determine which variables had an impact on error rates, and how strong or weak that impact was.

Q: What is a "serious and reversible error"?
A: A mistake that was prejudicial, was brought up in a timely manner and was discovered.

The legal reasons that permit death verdicts to be overturned set a high burden of proof for prisoners to meet, and assure that reversals occur because the death sentence is demonstrably unreliable. First, it is not enough that even a blatant legal error has occurred. In addition, the error must be prejudicial, which in most cases means the defendant must show that the error likely affected the outcome of the trial, or that similar errors often affect outcomes of death penalty trials. Second, the error must be brought up in a timely manner and in accordance with rules of the court - an error, regardless of the severity of the mistake, was not counted if it wasn't brought up under the rules of the court or if it wasn't actually overturned by the court. Finally, of course, the error must be discovered, not rumored or alluded to. By sticking to such a strict definition of "serious and reversible" the authors excluded trivial and technical mistakes.

In addition, the authors included four case studies in the report of people who were innocent but were approved for execution at all three appeals. In each of these cases, the courts found errors that in fact had led innocent people to be convicted, but the courts nonetheless let the conviction and death sentence stand because the defendants were unable to prove themselves innocent, and as a result the courts were not permitted to overturn the verdict. It was left to reporters, students, film makers and others to prove the innocence of those four men on death row.

Q: How have recent changes to rules about appeals effected the quality of trials? In other words, is the problem getting better or worse?
A: The problem is not getting better as a result of changes to the law.

The more people we try to execute, and the faster we try to execute them, the more mistakes we make. These mistakes lead to longer delays, and more innocent people on death row - all at taxpayer expense.

In 1996, Congress passed laws designed to decrease the number of death penalty appeals and speed the process from conviction to execution. Texas and other states passed similar laws at about the same time, further cutting back on review in the state courts. In addition, states passed laws both adding crimes for which someone could be sentenced to death and elements of crimes that could lead to a death sentence. The result was not fewer appeals, more efficient trials, or an increase in the percent of people being executed (executions have decreased over the past two years but the numbers of people on death row continues to grow).

The result of these changes was actually to make the system worse. Courts are now trying to do more with less, with predictable results. Rather than reserve the death penalty for the worst of the worst, and spend time making sure trials are conducted fairly and completely, courts rush through trials, handing down death sentences when they are not clearly called for, as a result of overlong lists of overbroad aggravating circumstances, hoping mistakes get caught further down the line. The appeals courts are therefore faced with a barrage of questionable death penalty convictions, through which they must sort. The greater the backlog, the less careful the review - faced with the same problem as the trial courts, the appeals courts rush the job and get it wrong. This, of course, leads to more appeals, which puts even more cases before the courts, which they rush through and more often than not get wrong. Recent changes in the rules that control appeals make matters worse by requiring courts to work even faster than before and by adding obstacles that keep them from overturning verdicts that are flawed and unreliable.

Q: Can you explain the methodology?
A: The authors used 19 different statistical tools, called regression analysis, to figure out why so many mistakes are made in death penalty trials.

Regression analysis is a statistical method for explaining the relationship between something you want to explain and things that might explain it. It allows you to look at the effect of individual factors while holding other factors constant. For example, a lot happens in a baseball game - running, hitting, pitching, defense, home field advantage, and so on. Which of those things has the most impact? All other factors held constant, how much difference does good pitching make?

The best way to answer these kinds of questions is to take all of the variables, all of the things that happen, and put them into a computer program that performs a series of calculations to determine which things can be said with confidence to matter, and how much they matter. There are a number of these models or programs, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. In this study, the authors use what they thought was the best model and then used 18 additional different models to test the data (for a total of 19 different tests) looking at the question of why there are so many mistakes from a number of different angles. This way the authors get the best and most complete view of the problem.

Q: What types of finding and conclusions does the study reach?
A: The study identifies a number of facts about how the death penalty system operates - for example, what conditions usually are present in states, counties and years in which above average numbers of errors are committed in capital cases. The study also offers some explanations for why these conditions might lead to high rates of error in capital cases.

The study's findings reveal the number of reversals of capital verdicts in different times and the conditions that tend to be present in places where, and at times when, rates of capital error are high. Those are the facts of the matter. Explanations provide reasons why reversals may occur, and why particular conditions may lead errors and reversals to occur. For example, the study find states where judges are elected tend to have more of their death penalties reversed because of serious errors. That's a fact. Other facts are that when the proportion of African-Americans in a state goes up, or when the number of times a state imposes a death sentence per homicide goes up, error rates also go up.

The best explanation for this is that elected judges face pressures to impose death sentences to calm crime fears, even if that punishment is not legally appropriate or if corners have to be cut during trial in order to obtain a death sentence. Judges, that is, feel the need to keep one eye on justice and one eye on politics, and may find it to be better politically to sentence a lot of people to death in the short run and have a lot of those sentences reversed many years down the road than it is to use the punishment more sparingly and have fewer mistakes discovered later on. Whether this explanation or another one applies, the main point is that politics interferes with the reliability of death verdicts.

In listing policy options, the authors were careful to rely on the facts of the matter as reasons for needing reform and for identifying the most beneficial reforms.

Q: Don't courts that are biased against the death penalty make it look like there are more errors than there really are?
A: The opposite very often is true - judges are under political pressure to approve death penalties that are flawed, and do so. And the standards they apply are so strict that they sometimes are forced to approve unreliable verdicts, including where the defendant is innocent of the crime.

One of the findings of the study is that judges who feel political pressure, primarily through elections, uphold questionable death sentences that higher courts have to overturn because they are unreliable.

While some accuse some of courts having an anti-death penalty bias others point to courts that have a pro-death penalty bias. An important reason for using statistical analysis is that it looks for patterns that are bigger and more powerful than the actions of particular judges. In this study, the authors reviewed over 5,000 decisions made by several thousand state and federal judges in three sets of appeals in 34 states and across 23 years. When high error rates are found by all these judges in all these appeals in all these states and years, it is impossible to blame the problem on particular individual judges. It is the system as a whole that is generating the problem, and it is the public, taxpayers and victims across the country and across decades who are suffering the consequences.

The authors checked to see if the judges who issue most of the reversals are likely to have views about the death penalty that are out of line with the views of the public and are biased against capital punishment. They found the opposite was the case: 90% of the reversals were by judges elected by the public. In more than half of the remaining cases that were reversed, a majority of the non-elected judges who found serious error and overturned the verdicts were appointed by Republican Presidents, further arguing against anti-death penalty bias.

As the four cases in the report reveal, judges must find that strict tests are satisfied before they may reverse. In close cases, they usually are not permitted to reverse, and reversal usually requires defendants to prove not only that errors occurred in their cases but also that those errors probably caused the jury to reach the wrong outcome. Because that is so hard to prove, courts often end up approving unreliable death verdicts - including verdicts that sent innocent people to death row. Only the intervention of those not associated with the court system saved the lives of these innocent people.

Q: Aren't most of the people who have their cases overturned guilty?
A: Not of a capital crime.

About one in ten of those who have their cases overturned at the second stage of review (which was the focus of this part of the study) and are sent back for retrial are found innocent. Imagine if one in ten medications killed the patient, or one of every ten school buses exploded - we simply would not accept that level of avoidable risk.

More than eight of ten reversals following the second stage of review result in a sentence less than death - which means that courts initially sentenced someone to die where that penalty was not legally appropriate. A premise of our system is that the punishment should fit the crime. Our most severe punishment must be reserved for the worst of the worst. When that is the case, there are few errors and few reversals. The problem comes when courts try to violate the basic premise that crime and punishment must be aligned.

Q: Based on this study, should we abolish the death penalty?
A: That is a question voters and their elected officials have to decide. If they decide to keep the death penalty, they should take steps to fix the mistakes.

If a mechanic tells us our car is broken, we choose to either fix the car or get rid of it. One of our public policies, the death penalty, is broken. Voters and their elected officials must decide to either fix it or abandon it. If the decision is to fix the system, the study identifies ten steps that can be taken to decrease the amount of errors, increase the fairness of the punishment, and decrease the chances we will execute an innocent person.

Q: Aren't a lot of these reversals just because the rules of the game change?
A: No. Most reversals are for violating rules that date back hundreds of years.

The study analyzed the reasons for about 500 of the reversals - all those occurring at the second and third stages of review. Far and away the most common reason a court reversed a death penalty at those two stages was because of incompetent counsel. The right to adequate counsel has been in the US Constitution since 1792, and the obligation to provide a qualified and competent attorney has been recognized at least since the 1930s. The second most common reason for reversal is prosecutors suppressing evidence of innocence or mitigation. The rules violated in these cases also date back several decades. The right to a properly informed jury - the right violated third most often - is as old as the nation.

Q: The study says one solution is reserving the death penalty for the worst of the worst. What is the worst of the worst?
A: The worst of the worst are those crimes with a high concentration of aggravating factors.

There is no such thing as a "good" murder. But the laws of states with the death penalty list factors that make murders more "aggravated" because they make the crime more serious or the offender more deserving of punishment. The study finds that death verdicts imposed where not just one, but several, of these factors are present are substantially less likely to be overturned due to serious error. Everything else equal, the addition of each additional aggravating circumstance made reversal 15% less likely at the third stage of review.

Q: Doesn't the high reversal rate really prove the system is working because it catches mistakes?
A: No. Evidence that a lot of mistakes are made is evidence that the system is broken.

It may be tempting to think that a high error rate demonstrates that the system is catching all of its mistakes, but that itself would be a mistake. It's like saying, "the fact that we get it wrong most of the time proves we get it right most of the time" - clearly a nonsensical proposition. That we catch so many errors is evidence that we make a lot of mistakes. It also implies that there are probably a lot of errors we don't catch.

Suggesting that the number if serious errors the courts find is proof that the system works is like suggesting that the more time your car spends at the garage the better it works - that the higher the bills you have to pay to fix your car, the better it runs. Clearly such claims are absurd.

Q: What's the bottom line?
A If a state is going to have the death penalty, it should be saved for the worst of the worst, time and effort should be put into the first trial, and those making life and death decisions shouldn't be subject to the whims of politics. In short, if you're going to use the death penalty, do it sparingly and do it right.

(Source: The Justice Project)

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Homicide Studies

Blackman, Paul H.: "A critique of the epidemiologic study of firearms and homicide"; 1 Homicide Studies 169 (1997)

Jamieson, Katherine M. and Zahn, Margaret A.: "Changing patterns of homicide and social policy"; 1 Homicide Studies 190 (1997)

Lattimore, Pamela K. et al.: "Homicide trends in eight U.S. cities: project overview and design"; 1 Homicide Studies 84 (1997)

Martinez Jr., Ramiro: "Homicide among Miami's ethnic groups: Anglos, Blacks, and Latinos in the 1990s"; 1 Homicide Studies 17 (1997)

Marvell, Thomas B. and Moody, Carlisle E.: "The impact of prison growth on homicide"; 1 Homicide Studies 205 (1997)

Maume, Michael O. and Shihadeh: "Segregation and crime: the relationship between black centralization and urban black homicide"; 1 Homicide Studies 254 (1997)

McCall, Patricia L. and Parker, Karen F.: "Adding another piece to the inequity-homicide puzzle: the impact of structural inequality on racially disaggregated homicide rates"; 1 Homicide Studies 35 (1997)

Padgett, Kathy G. et al.: "Debunking the stereotype: an examination of mass murder in public places"; 1 Homicide Studies 317 (1997)

Polk, Kenneth: "A reexamination of the concept of victim-precipitated homicide"; 1 Homicide Studies 141 (1997)

Rosenfeld, Richard: "Changing relationships between men and women: a note on the decline in intimate partner homicide"; 1 Homicide Studies 72 (1997)

Sobol, James J.: "Behavioral characteristics and level of involvement for victims of homicide"; 1 Homicide Studies 359 (1997)

Thomson, Ernie: "Deterrence versus brutalization: the case of Arizona"; 1 Homicide Studies 110 (1997)


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A State of Denial: Texas Justice and the Death Penalty

A State of Denial: Texas Justice and the Death Penalty Texas Defender Service*

A STATE OF DENIAL:
TEXAS JUSTICE AND THE DEATH PENALTY

Executive Summary

The nation is embroiled in a debate over the death penalty. Each day brings fresh accounts of racial bias, incompetent counsel, and misconduct committed by police officers or prosecutors in capital cases. The public increasingly questions whether the ultimate penalty can be administered fairly - free from the taint of racism; free from the disgrace of counsel sleeping through a client's trial; free from the risk of executing an innocent person. Support for the death penalty is falling, and across the country, momentum gathers for a moratorium. Even death penalty supporters - such as Illinois Governor George Ryan - have acknowledged the need for fundamental reform.


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