FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

It’s Time to Halt Executions Nationwide

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.

 

More articles by:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
Evan Jones
BNP Before a French Court
Norman Solomon
Kerry’s Endorsement of Biden Fits: Two Deceptive Supporters of the Iraq War
Torsten Bewernitz – Gabriel Kuhn
Syndicalism for the Twenty-First Century: From Unionism to Class-Struggle Militancy
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: From Banja Luka to Sarajevo
Thomas Knapp
NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog. Euthanize It.
Forrest Hylton
Bolivia’s Coup Government: a Far-Right Horror Show
M. G. Piety
A Lesson From the Danes on Immigration
Ellen Isaacs
The Audacity of Hypocrisy
Monika Zgustova
Chernobyl, Lies and Messianism in Russia
Manuel García, Jr.
From Caesar’s Last Breath to Ours
Binoy Kampmark
Going to the ICJ: Myanmar, Genocide and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gamble
Jill Richardson
Marijuana and the Myth of the “Gateway Drug”
Muzamil Bhat
Srinagar’s Shikaras: Still Waters Run Deep Losses
Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation
Farzana Versey
What Religion is Your Nationalism?
Clark T. Scott
The Focus on Trump Reveals the Democrat Model
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Do Bernie’s Supporters Know What “Not Me, Us” Means? Does Bernie?
Peter Harley
Aldo Leopold, Revisited
Winslow Myers
A Presidential Speech the World Needs to Hear
Christopher Brauchli
The Chosen One
Jim Britell
Misconceptions About Lobbying Representatives and Agencies
Ted Rall
Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does
Mel Gurtov
Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the Insecurity of China’s Leadership
Nicky Reid
Dennis Kucinich, Tulsi Gabbard and the Slow Death of the Democratic Delusion
Tom H. Hastings
Cross-Generational Power to Change
John Kendall Hawkins
1619: The Mighty Whitey Arrives
Julian Rose
Why I Don’t Have a Mobile Phone
David Yearsley
Parasitic Sounds
Elliot Sperber
Class War is Chemical War
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail