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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Two For The Road ... Sunday

Two apparently unrelated news stories about the death penalty should raise new doubts about its viability. But probably won’t.

The LA Times reminded us that one of the reasons for the lengthy delays between trial and execution is the lack of available and competent appellate lawyers willing to commit to pressure packed habeas corpus representation.

Paranoid prosecutors whine about a conspiracy of defense lawyers who raise multiple issues merely to cause delays. Noting that other states don’t seem to have problems finding defense lawyers, outgoing California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George explains that California’s standards of legal ethics and competence are just a bit higher than those of Texas, Florida and the several other states that rush to executions.

The fact that DNA as well as otter revelations (such as the defects in arson expertise) have proven (yes proven beyond any doubt) that many (not some, many) innocent people have been executed because of the insistence on speedy results rather than correct justice.

The New York Times previews a coming article in the New York Review of Books written by retired US Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, who expresses his regret about his votes to uphold the death penalty and his revised opinion that the punishment is unconstitutional. He had voted to uphold it because he thought procedures could be devised which would insure its fair application. He no longer believes that. He cites later opinions by the shifting majorities on The Court that undermined he faith in the law’s ability to devise fair procedures.

From the prosecutoria decision to seek death to jury selection to victim impact testimony to sentencing and appellate review, he concludes that the entire system of capital justice to be fatally flawed. 

Justice Stevens was interviewed for CBS's "60 Minutes" to be aired tonight (Sunday, November 28, 2010).

If there is to be an educated and informed electorate to decide things like capital punishment, these are the facts that need to be exposed.

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