Death Row News and Developments: 2004-2003
Broken System: Error Found in Three-Quarters of New Jersey Death Cases
Of the 63 death sentences handed down since New Jersey reinstated capital punishment in 1982, 47 have been overturned, including that of Robert Marshall, whose death sentence was reversed on April 8th by a federal court. Marshall had been on New Jersey's death row longer than any other inmate prior to the vacating of his sentence. New Jersey has not carried out an execution since bringing back the death penalty. It currently has 11 inmates on death row, and no executions are scheduled at this time. (Asbury Park Press, September 7, 2004) See DPIC's Summary of Prof. Liebman's Report on the national "Broken System".
Maryland Death Penalty Numbers Decline, Reflecting U. S. Trends
Mirroring a nationwide decline in both executions and death row population, Maryland's death row has fallen by 50% in recent years and the state has not carried out an execution since 1998. An in-depth review of Maryland's death row by The Washington Post found that the state's death row has dropped from a population of 18 to 9, largely due to reversals in cases and the impact of court rulings elsewhere. Victims' families, emotionally frayed by the years of appeals, are also telling prosecutors not to seek death in instances where inmates win resentencing, and many juries are choosing to sentence capital defendants to life without parole. Only two men have joined Maryland's death row since June 2000, and many more have been removed. Nationally, there were 50% fewer death sentences handed down in 2003 compared with 1999. Both the number of inmates on death row and the number of executions declined in 2003. (Washington Post, February 6, 2004) See DPIC's 2003 Year End Report (noting that last year also had a record-tying number of exonerations from death row).
Judge Finds Mississippi's Death Row Conditions Violate Eighth Amendment
U.S. Magistrate Jerry Davis has found that the way inmates are treated on Mississippi's death row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Noting that the death row at Patchman prison is so harsh and filthy that inmates are being driven insane, Davis stated, "No one in a civilized society should be forced to live under conditions that force exposure to another person's bodily wastes. No matter how heinous the crime committed, there is no excuse for such living conditions." The ruling came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of six inmates who alleged harsh conditions were contributing to a high rate of mental illness among prisoners. Davis ordered 10 facility reforms, including annual mental health check-ups, better lighting, improved toilets, and insect control. The Mississippi Corrections Commissioner said that he does not consider the state's death row to be any worse than others across the country. (Associated Press, May 22, 2003) See Mississippi Death Penalty Information.