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

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
Peter Lee
Is Obama Behind the Hit on Trump?
Christopher Brauchli
Why Did Congress Do It? Because They Can
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail