LETHAL INJECTION: The Ongoing Controversy Over How People Are Executed

One of the nation's leading academic experts on the death penalty has written a new article describing how the controversy surrounding lethal injections has greatly intensified since the Supreme Court's ruling on the subject in 2008 (Baze v. Rees). Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University, analyzed over 300 court decisions in the last five years citing Baze. She found there have been more changes in lethal injection protocols in that time than in the last 30 years, some of which have made matters worse. "The resulting protocols," she wrote, "differ from state to state, and even from one execution to the next within the same state," scarcely resembling those evaluated by the Supreme Court. As a result, "[T]this continuous tinkering often affects already troubled aspects of states’ lethal injection procedures, such as the paltry qualifications of executioners, the absence of medical experts, and the failure to account for difficulties injecting inmates whose drug-using histories diminish the availability of usable veins." She also addressed states' attempts to handle drug shortages, including changing drugs and turning to compounding pharmacies, whose recent record of contamination and resultant deaths have led to calls for greater regulatory oversight. She concluded, "Until death penalty states are willing to focus more on solutions than secrecy, lethal injection as a method of execution will remain mired in an endless cycle of difficulty and disorder."

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COSTS: Death Penalty Cases in Colorado Take Six Times Longer Than Life Sentences

A new study of the cost of the death penalty in Colorado revealed that capital proceedings require six times more days in court and take much longer to resolve than life-without-parole (LWOP) cases. The study, published in the University of Denver Criminal Law Review, found that LWOP cases required an average of 24.5 days of in-court time, while the death-penalty cases required 147.6 days. The authors noted that selecting a jury in an LWOP case takes about a day and a half; in a capital case, jury selection averages 26 days. In measuring the comparative time it takes to go from charging a defendant to final sentencing, the study found that LWOP cases took an average of 526 days to complete; death cases took almost 4 calendar years longer--1,902 days. The study found that even when a death-penalty case ends in a plea agreement and a life sentence, the process takes a year and a half longer than an LWOP case with a trial. The authors, Justin Marceau (pictured) and Hollis Whitson, could find no evidence of deterrence from the state's death penalty and thus concluded, “Our findings are unequivocal: Colorado’s death penalty imposes tremendous costs on taxpayers and its benefits are, at best, speculative, and more likely, illusory.”

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STUDIES: The Role of Implicit Racial Bias in the Death Penalty

A new study testing internal attitudes and stereotypes among potential jurors in six death penalty states may help to explain the racial disparities that persist in the application of capital punishment. Researchers Justin Levinson (l.), Robert Smith (r.), and Danielle Young tested 445 jury-eligible individuals and found they harbored two kinds of racial bias: they maintained racial stereotypes about Blacks and Whites and made associations between the race of an individual and the value of his or her life. Those studied tended to associate Whites more with "worth" and Blacks with "worthless." The study further found that death-qualified jurors held stronger racial biases than potential jurors who would be excluded from serving in death penalty cases.

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LAW REVIEWS: Yale Law Journal Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright

The latest edition of the Yale Law Journal features essays commemorating the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing all criminal defendants a right to an attorney. The collection of essays from leading legal experts includes an article by Stephen Bright and Sia Sanneh, titled “Fifty Years of Defiance and Resistance After Gideon v. Wainwright,” arguing that the criminal system is not truly adversarial because prosecutors possess broad power and resources, while defense systems are often poorly funded. Other essays by death penalty scholars include pieces by John Blume, Sheri Lynn Johnson, and Carol Steiker. Other authors explore the impact of race and poverty on representation, and the application of Gideon to military tribunals.

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LAW REVIEW: "Toward a Right to Litigate Ineffective Assistance of Counsel"

In a forthcoming article in the Washington and Lee Law Review, Ty Alper (pictured), Clinical Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, examines how recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions may affect the ability of defendants to raise claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Although the right to effective counsel is constitutionally guaranteed, most defendants, especially those charged with non-capital crimes, do not have adequate opportunities during appeals to raise claims of ineffective counsel, in part because such a claim requires the aid of counsel. Alper argues that the recent Supreme Court cases Martinez v. Ryan (2012) and Maples v. Thomas (2012) "portend a legal landscape in which it is possible to obtain a remedy for a Sixth Amendment violation without extending the right to counsel to postconviction cases in their entirety." He concludes that "If...the Court eventually adopts a rule that actually ensures states provide counsel to investigate and raise ineffectiveness claims (as opposed to merely creating tentative incentives for them to do so), capital defendants will benefit from the increased ability to establish cause for procedural default in federal court. But the real sea change will be with respect to the many more noncapital defendants who will be able to surface violations of Gideon in a way that has never before been possible."

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LAW REVIEWS: "Oregon's Death Penalty: The Practical Reality"

A recent article by Professor Aliza Kaplan (pictured) of the Lewis & Clark Law School examines Oregon's death penalty in light of the action take by the state's governor, John Kitzhaber, to halt all executions. The article explores the history of Oregon's death penalty, the risk of wrongful convictions, and the costs associated with maintaining capital punishment. Kaplan found that executions are carried out very rarely, and, since 1976 only in instances where the inmate waived his appeals. According to one estimate cited by Kaplan, the cost of putting a person to death in Oregon is at least 50% more, and may be up to five times as much as the cost of a life without parole sentence. For example, Oregon taxpayers have paid approximately $2.2 million on the case of Randy Lee Guzek, who has been on death row for 24 years and is still not at the end of his appeals. Kaplan concludes, "While capital punishment remains on the books in Oregon, it is carried out rarely and only for volunteers; it moves at a snail's pace and is absorbing millions of dollars. Oregon's death penalty is long overdue for an examination as a public policy; its problems and alleged benefits should be weighed."

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STUDIES: Racial Bias in Houston's Use of Death Penalty

In a new study in Harris County (Houston), Texas, criminologist Scott Phillips found significant racial and gender disparities in the application of the death penalty under former District Attorney Charles Rosenthal. Prof. Phillips of the University of Denver examined homicides from 2001 to 2008 and found that death sentences were imposed on behalf of white victims at 2.5 times the rate one would expect if the system were race neutral. Furthermore, death sentences were imposed on behalf of white-female victims at 5 times the rate one would expect if the system were blind to race and gender. Phillips noted that these disparities were particularly troubling because Rosenthal was forced from office in a scandal involving racial improprieties in the workplace. In a previous study, Prof. Phillips also found racial disparities in the application of the death penalty under the previous Harris County D.A., Johnny Holmes, during the latter part of his term (1992-99).

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LAW REVIEWS: The Enduring Significance of Studies Showing Racial Bias in the Death Penalty

Professor Samuel R. Gross (pictured) of the University of Michigan Law School has published an article in the Iowa Law Review examining the historical importance of a series of studies showing racial bias in the death penalty. The issue of race was brought to a head by the Supreme Court's consideration of McCleskey v. Kemp in 1987. McCleskey focused on a statistical examination of Georgia death sentences conducted by David Baldus. Though the study found compelling and statistically significant evidence of racial bias in sentencing, the Court held (5-4) this evidence insufficient to overturn Warren McCleskey's death sentence. Prof. Gross argues that, despite the Court's negative holding, the Justices were convinced that racial bias existed in the death penalty. "Even on the Supreme Court that sent Warren McCleskey to his death, even among the Justices who most strongly support the death penalty, nobody has tried to deny that racial 'sympathies and antipathies' decide who lives and who dies. No Justice said otherwise in McCleskey and none have denied it since." Gross concludes that Baldus' legacy was in "forc[ing] reluctant judges to face up to facts they would have preferred to ignore." Prof. Baldus of the University of Iowa died in 2011.

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