RESOURCES: DEATH ROW USA Fall 2006 Now Available - Florida Surpasses Texas

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row, USA" reports that the number of people on death row in the United States has continued to decline, falling to 3,344 as of October 1, 2006. The size of death row has been declining since 2000 after 25 years of steady increases. For the first time in many years, Florida (398) surpassed Texas (392) in the size of its deathrow. California (657) continued to have the largest death row.

Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 45% white, 42% black, and 11% Latino/Latina. Of jurisdictions with more than 10 people on death row, Texas (69%) and Pennsylvania (70%) continue to have the largest percentage of minorities on death row. Nearly 80% of the murder victims in the crimes that resulted in executions were white. (Generally, only about 48% of murder victims are white.)

Death Row, USA is published quarterly and contains the names and race of everyone on death row, execution statistics, and an overview of recent Supreme Court decisions related to capital punishment.

(NAACP Legal Defense Fund, "Death Row, USA, Fall 2006" October 1, 2006) (should be posted soon). See Death Row and DPIC's 2006 Year End Report for a discussion of the overall decline in the use of the death penalty.

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DPIC's 12th annual Year End Report was released on December 14 and reveals a broad decline in the use of the death penalty in the U.S. based on a number of factors:  the public now favors life without parole over the death penalty; the number of executions has dropped to the fewest in a decade, in part because of challenges to the lethal injection process; and the annual number of death sentences is now at a 30-year low.  The report notes that various states have put a hold on all executions, while others are reviewing problems in the capital punishment system.  The report cites a number of new developments, including the challenges posed by the severe mental illness of many on death row, and quotes a series of law enforcement personnel, editorials, and public officials voicing serious concerns about the death penalty.

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NEW RESOURCES: Final Report on the Death Penalty to the Washington State Bar Association

The Death Penalty Subcommittee of the Committee on Public Defense of the Washington State Bar has prepared a report on the state's death penalty that will be submitted to the Bar Association's Board of Governors in early 2007.  The Subcommittee was formed to examine the costs of the state's death penalty and to recommend whether the death penalty should be continued, given the expenses and the state's experience in carrying out death sentences.  The Death Penalty Subcommittee was made up of supporters and opponents of the death penalty, all with extensive experience with the criminal justice system.

The report noted that since the death penalty was reinstated in Washington in 1981, there have been 254 death eligible cases.  Of these, death notices were filed by the prosecution in 79 cases (31.1%).  Death sentences were imposed in 30 cases, or 11.8% of the death eligible cases.  Twenty-three cases have completed appellate review, and 4 inmates have been executed.  Three of the four inmates executed waived part of their appeals, thereby hastening their executions.  The other 19 cases were reversed, almost all resulting in a sentence of life without parole.

With respect to the costs of the death penalty, the report concluded:

  • At the trial level, death penalty cases are estimated to generate roughly $470,000 inadditional costs to the prosecution and defense over the cost of trying the same case as an aggravated murder without the death penalty and costs of $47,000 to $70,000 for court personnel.
  • On direct appeal, the cost of appellate defense averages $100,000 more in death penalty cases, than in non-death penalty murder cases.
  • Personal restraint petitions filed in death penalty cases on average cost an additional$137,000 in public defense costs.

The Subcommittee offered a series of recommendations regarding the state's death penalty, but declined to state a recommendation on whether it should be continued:

1. The State should provide full funding for all costs of prosecution and defense of
aggravated murder cases. State funding should include programs and policies to
assure high quality representation. The State should investigate the best model for
delivery of effective and efficient representation, including the possibility of a
statewide public defender agency for aggravated murder cases.
2. The defense team in a death penalty case should include, at a minimum, the two
attorneys appointed pursuant to SPRC 2, a mitigation specialist and an
investigator. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other experts and support personnel
should be added as needed.
3. The funding agreement or budget for a public defender agency should provide for
caseload adjustment when a lawyer is appointed to a death penalty case, so that the
attorney may be able to devote the time and attention necessary to provide
competent defense in the death penalty case. The caseload adjustment may
involve hiring additional lawyers by the agency or a reduction in cases assigned to
the agency.
4. Flat fees, caps on compensation and lump-sum contracts for trial attorneys are
improper in death penalty cases.
5. Private practice attorneys appointed in death penalty cases should be fully
compensated for actual time and service performed at a reasonable hourly rate
with no distinction between rates for services performed in court and out of court.
Periodic billing and payment should be available.
6. The Subcommittee’s study has been limited in scope, and there are additional
topics concerning the death penalty which could be addressed in a comprehensive
study; therefore, the Subcommittee recommends that a separate task force created
by the Legislature should be dedicated to a multi-disciplinary examination of the
death penalty.
7. The Administrative Office of the Courts should provide capital case training and
resources for judges, the capital trial desk book should be kept current, and a
judicial mentorship program in capital cases should be established.
8. The Subcommittee recommends that the Washington Supreme Court authorize the
Capital Counsel Committee to create and maintain two lists of attorneys qualified
to represent a capital defendant in the trial court. The first list should include those
individuals who have demonstrated their qualifications, as defined in SPRC 2, to
serve as “first chair” in a capital case. The second list should include those
individuals who have not yet satisfied the requirements to serve as “first chair,”
but who are qualified to serve as “second chair” and who are interested in gaining
the experience necessary to be placed on the “first chair” list. Trial courts may,
but need not, appoint an attorney from the “second chair” list.
In addition, the Subcommittee recommends that the Washington Supreme Court
direct that the Capital Counsel Committee, when conducting its initial and its
yearly review of applicants, solicit information from judges before whom the
applicant has practiced, opposing counsel, co-counsel, peers and supervisors. The
sub-committee recommends that the Washington Supreme Court direct that the
Capital Counsel Committee pay particular attention to any declarations,
allegations, or judicial findings of ineffective assistance of counsel.
9. The Death Penalty Subcommittee recognizes that no single statewide rate can
account for the various factors that should be taken into consideration to determine
compensation for lead counsel in a death penalty case at trial level. The hourly rate
established for lead counsel in a particular case should be based on the
circumstances of the case and the attorney being appointed, including the
following factors: the anticipated time and labor required in the case, the
complexity of the case, the skill and experience required to provide adequate legal
representation, the attorney's overhead expenses and the exclusion of other work
by the attorney during the case. The subcommittee finds that the federal rate of
$163.00 (in 2006 dollars) is a reasonable rate of compensation for private lawyers
appointed as lead defense counsel in death penalty cases. The subcommittee
recommends that under no circumstance should the hourly rate for lead counsel
appointed in a death penalty case be less than $125.00 per hour (in 2006 dollars).

(FINAL REPORT OF THE DEATH PENALTY SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC DEFENSE, Washington State Bar Association, December 2006).  See Costs and Representation.

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NEW RESOURCES: Bureau of Justice Statistics Releases Capital Punishment, 2005

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has just released the 2005 version of its annual report on the death penalty in the U.S. The report notes that both the number of death sentences and the size of death row were down for 2005, and that this represents a trend over the past 5 years. The report states that there were 60 executions in 2005, all by lethal injection, and that the time between sentencing and execution was longer in 2005 than in 2004.

California had the most death sentences (23) in 2005, followed by Florida (15), Texas (14) and Alabama (12). Together these states accounted for half of those sentenced to death in 2005. California had the largest number on death row (646) and Texas had the most executions (19) in 2005.

(U.S. Dept. of Justice, Capital Punishment, 2005 (pub. December 2006)). See also DPIC's 2005 Year End Report. DPIC will be releasing its 2006 Year End Report by the end of this week, and it will have information on the death penalty in 2006. See Sentencing.

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NEW RESOURCES: Victims' Group to Release Report on Families of the Executed

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights will release a new report on December 10 entitled “Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.” Families of the executed are victims, too, according to the new report, which draws upon the stories of three dozen family members of inmates executed in the United States and demonstrates that their experiences and traumatic symptoms resemble those of many others who have suffered a violent loss.

“I don’t think people understand what executions do to the families of the person being executed,” says Billie Jean Mayberry, one of the family members featured in the report. Mayberry’s brother, Robert Coe, was executed in Tennessee in 2000. “To us, our brother was murdered right in front of our eyes. It changed all of our lives.”

“Creating More Victims” includes recommendations for mental health professionals, educators, and child welfare advocates. MVFHR also plans to deliver the report to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and request that that office undertake further study of the impact of executions on surviving families.

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Number of Police Officers Killed Declines in Same Period as Decline in Use of Death Penalty

According to a new report from the FBI, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty declined in 2005 compared with 2004, and was 22% less than the number killed in 2001.  Fifty-five law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in 2005, 57 in 2004, and 70 in 2001.  The South had the largest number of police officers killed, almost three times more than any of the other regions in the country.  Twenty-eight officers were killed in the South, 10 in the Midwest, 10 in the West, and 5 in the Northeast.
(Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed and Assaulted 2005, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Oct. 30, 2006).  DPIC note: during this same period of time (2001-05), there has been a decline in the number of death sentences, executions, and size of death row.  The South, the region with the most police officers killed, is responsible for about 80% of the executions in the country since 1976.  The Northeast, the region with the fewest police officers killed, has had less than 1% of the country's executions.  See Deterrence and DPIC's report, On the Front Line.

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Texas Newspaper Studies State's Death Penalty Appeals Process

The Austin American-Statesman conducted an extensive study of the quality of representation that death row inmates receive in Texas.  The study concluded that:

Sheltered by an indifferent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, lawyers appointed
to handle appeals for death row inmates routinely bungle the job, submitting
work that falls far below professional standards, frequently at taxpayer expense.

Some appeals are incomplete, incomprehensible or improperly argued. Others are
duplicated, poorly, from previous appeals.

Whatever their condition, these pieces of shoddy legal work have been
tolerated by the state's highest criminal court for 11 years — during which
273 men and women were executed — despite a state law requiring the court to
ensure that the condemned receive competent legal help.

The court has failed in that obligation, allowing lawyers to submit sloppy,
lazy and inferior work with little oversight and no fear of consequences,
according to an Austin American-Statesman examination that raises troubling
questions about the quality of death penalty justice in the nation's leading
execution state.

One of the appeals cited in the study was written by an appointed attorney, Toby Wilkinson, who clearly just copied portions of a letter written by his client on death row.  The paper quoted the brief to the court, and noted:

"I'm just about out of carbon paper," reads the bizarre appeal, which earned
Wilkinson $22,270 from the Texas treasury. "As soon as I get some more typing
supplies I have about thirty more errors I want . . . in my appeal."

The paper described the response of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to the dismal quality of representation in many cases as "feeble."

(Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman, Oct. 29, 2006; two-part series, "Writs Gone Wrong," Oct. 29-30, 2006).  See Representation and Arbitrariness.

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North Carolina Study Finds Substandard Representation

The Common Sense Foundation of North Carolina released a study on October 11, 2006 that found that at least 37 people now on death row had trial lawyers who would not have met today’s minimum standards of qualification.  Nearly a third of the cases where sufficient data was available fell into this substandard category.

The study also lists the names of 16 people who have been executed whose trial lawyers did not meet these same standards. Over half of the executions in the state where data was available were of defendants whose attorneys would not meet the current state standards.  

The study noted that after the state legislature created the Office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS) in 2001 requiring that appointed capital defense attorneys have some experience and knowledge of capital defense, the number of N.C. death sentences declined sharply.  However, the new rules do not apply to those who have already been sentenced to death.

(Death Row Injustices, Common Sense Foundation, October 2006).  See Representation and Studies.

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RESOURCES: DEATH ROW USA Summer 2006 Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on the death row in the United States is continuing to decline, falling to 3,366 as of July 1, 2006. The size of death row increased every year between 1976 and 2000, but since then it has been in a slow decline.

Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 45% white, 42% black, and 11% latino/latina. Of jurisdictions with more than 10 people on death row, Texas (69%) and Pennsylvania (70%) continue to have the largest percentage of minorites on death row. Nearly 80% of the victims in crimes that resulted in executions were white.

California, with 657 inmates, and Texas, with 401 inmates, have the largest death row populations in the country. New Hampshire has no one on death row.

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RESOURCES: New FBI Report Shows U.S. Murder Rate Unchanged Over 5 Years

The FBI recently released the latest version of its Uniform Crime Reports: Crime in the United States 2005. The report showed that the murder rate in 2005 (5.6 murders per 100,000 people) was the same as in 2001, with little change in the intervening years. Death sentences, executions and the size of death row all declined during this period.

As in previous years, the South had the higherst murder rate, 6.6, among the 4 geographical regions. Over 80% of the executions in the country have occurred in the South since the death penalty was reinstated. The Northeast had the lowest murder rate, 4.4. Less than 1% of the executions in the country have occurred in the Northeast.

The state with the largest increase in its murder rate was Alabama, where the murder rate increased 46%. The state with the largest decrease in its murder rate was Vermont, a non-death penalty state, where the rate decreased by 51%.

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