Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Death penalty: a lawyer sees the light

The observation by [Cherie Blair? ] "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" is illustrated by the two nations' differing reactions to the use of the death penalty as a legitimate punishment for murder.

In Europe one of the developing post-war insights into the requirements for the proper protection of fundamental rights is that the death penalty is unacceptable. For example, the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention (1983) provides that: "The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed." This right was incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act in 1998.

There is a growing worldwide movement to end the death penalty. The United Nation's Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, and the 1999 Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium On Executions passed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission were created with the goal of making abolition of the death penalty an international norm.

There has been a growing amount of case law under the European Convention, the South African constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights to the effect that to expose an individual to the possibility of the death penalty violates their rights to fundamental justice and/or the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae Pope John Paul, [religious bondage], concluded that in most cases there was no longer, [? never was], any moral basis to justify the use of the death penalty by the State. The United States, however, takes a different view.

The death penalty is used in 38 of the states. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have abolished it. Yet the debate about whether it is appropriate to use capital punishment continues on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although, [allegedly], a majority of US citizens seem to be in favour of the death penalty, the October 2003 Gallup poll in the US, [allegedly], showed support for the death penalty at its lowest ever level at 63 per cent.

In this readable and fascinating book, the best-selling novelist and lawyer Scott Turow recounts how his service on the Illinois Governor's Commissions on Capital Punishment changed him from a "capital punishment agnostic", and led him to become one of the majority on the commission who voted against the retention of the death penalty in Illinois.

Turow first describes his own contrasting personal experiences and feelings when acting as the successful attorney on two contrasting death penalty cases. In one of them he was a prosecutor and in the other, ten years later, he was acting for the defence in a death row appeal.

He goes on to explain how the decision of Governor George Ryan of Illinois to set up the commission reflected a wider movement within the US to revisit the question of the death penalty. He rightly points out that behind instinctive expressions of support for the death penalty, the debate raises crucial questions about the goals of punishment, the possibility of redemption, the value of human life and the power of the State.

His thesis is that although on each side of the debate there are those who have deeply held convictions, for the majority of American citizens the matter is far more evenly balanced, with people being drawn to one side or the other of the debate depending on the circumstances of the particular case. During the Illinois Commission's deliberations they looked at the worryingly large number of cases where the innocent had been convicted of murder.

This revealed the paradox that since capital punishment is reserved by law for the worst of the worst murders, those that produce the strongest emotions of anger and outrage, this makes rational deliberation problematic for investigators, prosecutors, judges and juries.

The more horrific the murder, the harder the pressure from the public to secure a conviction both before and during the trial. Capital cases are uniquely prone to error and thus call into question whether we can ever be really sure of obtaining the just result.

For many Americans there can only be proper retribution for the victim's family if the murderer too loses his life. Turow points out that for these families the law has already failed since the purpose of the legal system is to protect the lives of the people.

For the many who seek the death penalty, the goal appears to be what has become known as "closure". But Turow points out that this desire applies to every murder case, and yet most murders do not attract the ultimate penalty.

Whilst acknowledging that the legal system has for too long ignored the perspective of the victims, [?], he concludes that the views of the survivors are not in themselves sufficient to justify the death penalty: "if we are to subscribe to the death penalty, it must benefit the rest of us as well."

In 1996, in a survey of 67 leading criminologists, 80 per cent said that existing research did not support a deterrence justification for capital punishment. In fact those states with the death penalty suffer from more incidences of violent crime than those that do not.

The benefit of capital punishment must therefore lie in retribution. But as a moral justification this only works if we are convinced that every execution is just: the reality is that too many innocent people are executed for the system to be able to claim a just precision. Add to this the lotteries of race, sex and geography and it is not possible to say that in every case the death penalty has achieved justice.

After considering the counterbalancing factors of the possibility of redemption and the possibility of re-offending, Turow concluded that it was not possible to support the death penalty. He concluded that there seems to be no possible system which does not occasionally condemn the innocent or undeserving.

The Illinois Commission itself was not charged with the task of recommending abolition.

Instead it put forward a number of proposals aimed at reducing the potential injustice. However, the State Legislature proved unable to pass the recommendations leaving it in the end to the State Governor to take a personal decision to commute all 167 death sentences 164 to life without parole.

The anticipated public outrage failed to materialise, the current Governor has continued the moratorium on the death penalty and almost all the Commission recommendations have been adopted.

Ultimate Punishment Scott Turow Picador, posted 11 feb 04


Cherie Blair attacks US over death penalty in Catholic paper
Cherie Blair has renewed her attack on America's use of the death penalty. In a book review in the Catholic journal The Tablet, under her maiden name Cherie Booth, she says: "Capital cases are uniquely prone to error and thus call into question whether we can ever be really sure of obtaining the just result.

Insane prisoner granted stay in the USA
The case of a condemned killer with a history of paranoid delusions and violent outbursts raises questions about executing the mentally ill.

OHIO: Judges join dissent on execution delay
Lewis Williams - his attorneys argued that he was mentally retarded, was executed by lethal injection on Jan. 14 2004 in Lucasville, Ohio at age 45.

Mexico Awaits Hague Ruling on Citizens on U.S. Death Row
Sbaldo Torres, a convicted murderer on death row in Oklahoma, should have been dead by now, his appeals exhausted, his time up. But because 15 judges in The Hague, acting at the request of the government of Mexico, have forbidden his execution for now, he is alive in a cell in McAlester, awaiting the next move from the Netherlands.

Jury Passes On Business Of Killing
US: This drives the death penalty crowd in the legislature nuts. Yet another jury - another 12 men and women, tried and true, who had all attested to their belief in the death penalty - has refused to join in the killing business.

Ultimate Punishment: Dealing With the Death Penalty
Scott Turow has long juggled two careers‹that of a novelist and that of a lawyer. He wrote much of his first and best known legal thriller, Presumed Innocent, on the commuter train to and from work during the eight years he spent as an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago, and he has churned out another blockbuster every third year since joining the firm of Sonnenschein Nath and Rosenthal in 1986.

Are you sane enough to be executed?
New York: The US Supreme Court has let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court in February that officials in the state of Arkansas had the right to force a convicted murderer to take drug treatment to make him sane enough to be executed.

Amnesty steps up campaign to abolish death penalty
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International is urging people around the world to pressure countries to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty director Irene Khan has released a statement, which raps governments for carrying out "executions".

Port Lincoln Mayor has lost the plot!
Controversial Port Lincoln Mayor Peter Davis has called for drug addicts to be given a lethal injection to cut rising illicit drug use on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.

'LAND OF THE FREE' SET TO EXECUTE TWO PRISONERS BY FIRING SQUAD: Wanted: Willing executioners for two convicted murderers. Must be psychologically sound and familiar with .30-calibre rifles. No victims' relatives need apply.

There has been some debate whether: 'Capital punishment should be re-instated in Australia, since the terrible events that took place in Bali' In all democratic nations, every human being is considered innocent of any alleged crime, until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a court of law. For this reason, certain safeguards must be used for capital punishment cases.

Keith Clay was executed tonight, becoming the 300th prisoner in Texas to die by lethal injection since the rogue state resumed the death penalty 20 years ago.

" ... Our nation was built on a promise of life and liberty for all citizens. Guided by a deep respect for human dignity, our Founding Fathers worked to secure these rights for future generations, and today we continue to seek to fulfil their promise in our laws and our society.

Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Please note the following article shows clearly the hateful, uncaring and anti-human rights attitude as reflected by the Governor of Texas (and most other elected Texas officials).

Supreme Court Justice Blocks Execution
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens blocked Indiana from putting to death its oldest death row inmate Tuesday to give the 71-year-old prisoner, who is partially deaf and blind, extra time to file federal appeals.

Stephen Romei: Death knell sounds for US capital law
GEORGE RYAN, outgoing governor of the US state of Illinois a republican who leaves office today, has put US capital punishment on the road to oblivion by commuting the sentences of all 167 of the state's death row inmates. Three were re-sentenced to 40 years' jail and the remaining 164 got life without parole.

Amnesty urges Bush to shut death row
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged US President George W. Bush to take a "moral stand" and abolish the death penalty after the Illinois Governor dramatically emptied that state's death row.