NEW RESOURCES: Symposium in Vermont on Capital Punishment

On February 11, 2011, a symposium will be held at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton to explore current issues in capital punishment. Entitled New Perspectives on Capital Punishment, the symposium will address the death penalty from the point of view of scholars, litigators, and educators. The goal of the symposium is to contribute to the vital discourse concerning capital punishment and its human rights implications. It will feature Hugo Adam Bedau, a prominent death penalty scholar.  Other speakers include nationally recognized death penalty litigators Mark Olive and Sean O'Brien, lethal injection expert Deborah Denno, constitutional scholar Eric Freedman, acclaimed sociologist Michael Radelet, and international law attorney Sandra Babcock. The symposium will address topics such as Applied Theory and Litigation Strategies and International Law and Capital Punishment.

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LAW REVIEWS: Challenging the Constitutionality of the Federal Death Penalty

A recent article in the Akron Law Review asks whether the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA) is in compliance with the Sixth Amendment's right to confront witnesses because it allows hearsay evidence in determining whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty. During a typical criminal trial, the accused has the right to challenge and cross examine the testimony of state witnesses who must appear in person.  But in a death penalty case, the FDPA allows statements of witnesses not present in the courtroom to be used to determine whether the defendant's case fits one of the aggravating factors necessary for a death sentence.  The article's authors, Michael Pepson and John Sharifi, write: "[A]llowing the government to prove statutory aggravating factors … with testimonial hearsay, even where the defendant has never had an opportunity to cross-examine the declarant(s), is not constitutional."  The authors suggest two constitutional alternatives: doing away entirely with the FDPA or revising the law to include the aggravating-factor determination in the guilt phase of the trial, subject to the usual rules of evidence. This would allow federal capital defendants to confront witnesses regarding the critical question of whether they are eligible for a death sentence.

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LAW REVIEWS: Condemned Defendants Should Comprehend Death

A recent  article by Prof. Jeffrey Kirchmeier of the City University of New York School of Law entitled, "The Undiscovered Country: Execution Competency & Comprehending Death" explores whether mentally disabled inmates who do not understand that execution means the end of their physical life should be spared. Kirchmeier examines Supreme Court precedent under the Eighth Amendment that requires that a condemned defendant be competent in order to be executed. The article argues that the penological goals of the death penalty could not be fulfilled unless the condemned person comprehends what his death means. Kirchmeier writes, "Those who do not comprehend death are not as a category a group of people who will be deterred by the death penalty more than life in prison, and such persons will not be able to appreciate the moral condemnation designed to be delivered by the death penalty." The article also discusses a standard for comprehension of death consistent with earlier Court rulings. Click here to read the full article.

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