FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

It’s Time to Halt Executions Nationwide

by Sen. Russ Feingold And Sen. Jon Corzine

Gov. Parris N. Glendening took a courageous step when he put a moratorium on executions in Maryland, as Gov. George Ryan did in Illinois in 2000.

Mr. Glendening’s action signals mounting concern about flaws in our death penalty system: the 101st death row inmate has now been exonerated; a Columbia University study has found that from 1973 to 1995, more than two-thirds of death penalty convictions were reversed on appeal based on serious, reversible error; and late last month in New York, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff announced that he was seriously considering finding the federal death penalty unconstitutional because so many death row inmates have been found innocent.

The message is clear: In response to the glaring flaws in the administration of capital punishment, the nation should conduct a thorough, nationwide review of the death penalty.

No executions should go forward while an independent, blue-ribbon commission examines the federal and state systems of capital punishment – systems so riddled with errors that for every eight people executed in the modern death penalty era, one person on death row has been found innocent. No one would buy a particular car if the brakes failed in one car for every eight cars that came off the lot, and we should never accept that level of error when people’s lives hang in the balance.

The commission appointed by Governor Ryan has taken a hard look at that state’s death penalty system, which has freed more men from its death row than it has executed since Illinois reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Yet no thorough study of the federal death penalty, or of the death penalty in 37 other states, has been conducted since the Supreme Court first declared capital punishment unconstitutional in the United States in 1972.

Just last week, the 101st exoneration in the United States took place in Pennsylvania, where Thomas Kimbell Jr. spent four years on Pennsylvania’s death row for murders he did not commit. With 101 death row inmates nationwide found innocent – some just days before their execution date – the nation should follow Illinois’ lead by placing a moratorium on executions and conducting a thorough examination of the administration of capital punishment.

After the 13th innocent man was freed from Illinois’ death row more than two years ago, Governor Ryan placed a moratorium on the state’s death penalty and brought together an esteemed panel of prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and other citizens from both sides of the issue.

That commission concluded that while no system can guarantee that capital punishment won’t take an innocent life in Illinois, the state can institute reforms in its criminal justice system to guard against such a terrible injustice.

The recommendations made by the Illinois commission address the root problems that have resulted in the wrongful conviction of innocent people.

For instance, the commission recommends that the death penalty be barred in certain situations in which a conviction hinges solely on evidence that is inherently less reliable, such as the testimony of a single witness, a jailhouse informant or “snitch,” or an uncorroborated accomplice.

The commission also recommends the videotaping of questioning of capital suspects at a police facility to reduce the risk of possible coerced confessions.

The problem of incompetent defense counsel can be addressed by improving the training of lawyers in death penalty cases, the commission writes.

While Illinois, and now Maryland, work to reform their death penalty systems, many other states have done little or nothing to review their own systems of capital punishment, even though their rates for error in capital cases may be significant.

Three-fourths of the states that have conducted executions since 1976 have released at least one innocent person from death row; 22 innocent people have been released from Florida’s death row alone in the modern death penalty era.

A national commission should study whether and how these kinds of serious errors can be avoided in other death penalty states and at the federal level.

We support legislation in the Senate to create such a commission, and to put a moratorium on executions while the commission evaluates whether the operation of the death penalty machinery today is consistent with constitutional principles of fairness, justice, equality and due process.

The harrowing stories of innocent people narrowly averting execution, and the courageous steps by the Maryland and Illinois governors, offer compelling evidence that a national commission and moratorium should go forward.

Russ Feingold is a Democratic senator from Wisconsin and Jon Corzine is a Democratic senator from New Jersey. They are co-sponsors of the proposed National Death Penalty Moratorium Act.

 

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Obama’s Legacy
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Christopher Brauchli
Parallel Lives: Trump and Temer
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail