a bird and a bottle

Bringing Down the Death Penalty
January 18, 2007, 1:46 pm
Filed under: criminal justice, news & views

I am posting in full Bryan Stevenson’s article in Newsweek supporting the abolition of the death penalty. I’m doing this in part because I have very little time today (classes then to the airport to Atlanta), and partly because he is amazing. I’ve seen him speak and it was one of the most inspiring talks I’ve ever attended. Enjoy.

Protecting Human Rights From Death

by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama and Professor of Clinical Law at New York University School of Law, has won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system. Since graduating from Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, he has assisted in securing relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, advocated for poor people and developed community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of criminal justice. More information is available at www.eji.org.

One day, the fog of fear and anger will lift enough in America for capital punishment to be abolished. Perhaps on this clearer day, we’ll reconcile our rhetoric about human rights and compassion with mass incarceration, torture and excessive punishment. Maybe we will reject the arrogance that justifies executions simply because our government believes it has the power to kill. Most likely, an improved climate will expose the bizarre bureaucracy of state-sanctioned killing as an unreliable, inaccurate and profoundly unfair system that is simply too costly and burdensome to continue. However the day comes—and it will come—I hope we get there soon. The longer we tolerate the mistakes, discrimination and abuse of power that characterize the modern death penalty, the more we sustain a legacy of indecent brutality that compromises the evolution of human rights in this country and around the world.

In the United States many politicians glory in their power to execute condemned prisoners. All the while, we forfeit reliability in criminal adjudications for speed and political expediency with shocking consequences. American states and the federal government have electrocuted, gassed, shot, lethally poisoned and hanged more than 1000 U.S. prisoners in the last 25 years. However, for every eight people who have been executed during the modern era, one innocent person on death row has been identified, exonerated and released. It is a rate of error that shocks the conscience.

We have a criminal justice system in America that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. There is no recognized federal constitutional right to counsel for the 3500 condemned U.S. prisoners currently sentenced to die, who must pursue crucial postconviction appeals to prevent wrongful executions. The American Bar Association has declared that there should be a moratorium on executions in the United States because of widespread problems with indigent defense. The ABA took this position after reviewing the quality of defense services provided to capital defendants who are mostly poor. They concluded that defense lawyers in many capital jurisdictions were grossly underpaid, lacked training, standards and the necessary skills for death penalty litigation.

In too many states, capital defendants have been represented by attorneys whose compensation is capped at less than $1000 a case. In some rural areas in Texas, lawyers have received no more than $800 to handle a capital case. A study in Virginia found that, after taking into account an attorney’s overhead expenses, the effective hourly rate paid to counsel representing a capital defendant was $13. Why are states permitted to execute prisoners when they provide the indigent with lawyers who are asleep, drunk or otherwise impaired during the trial? If states cannot first provide indigent defendants adequate legal representation, they do not deserve to carry out executions.

Read the rest here (pdf).



2 Comments so far
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I just saw this on the wire. How timely and appropriate.

“DALLAS – In a case that has renewed questions about the quality of Texas justice, a man who spent 10 years behind bars for the rape of a boy has become the 12th person in Dallas County to be cleared by DNA evidence.

That is more DNA exonerations than in all of California, and more than in Florida, too. In fact, Dallas County alone has more such cases than all but three states — a situation one Texas lawmaker calls an “international embarrassment.”

Here is the link: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070119/ap_on_re_us/texas_dna_exoneration

Imagine if this were a capital case!

Comment by Jeff Berger


Usefull post. I learned so much. Thank you.

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