Recent Legislative Activity

NEW VOICES: One Year Later, New Jersey Prosecutors Find No Problem with Abolition of Death Penalty

In December 2007, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty in 40 years.  In commenting on the absence of capital punishment for one year, a number of state prosecutors found no problems with the new system.  "We have not viewed it as an impediment in the disposition of murder cases," said Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, who served on a state study commission that reviewed the death penalty. "As a practical matter, we have really seen no difference in the way we conduct our business in prosecuting murder cases."


Maryland Commission Recommends Abolition of Death Penalty in Final Report

The legislative commission established to examine the death penalty in Maryland has recommended abolition of the punishment by a vote of 13-9.  The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment released its final report on December 12, detailing the reasons for its recommendation.  "There is no good and sufficient reason to have the death penalty," Chairman Benjamin R. Civiletti said at a news conference. Regarding the commission's recommendation of repeal rather than reform, he said, "There are so many faults, so many flaws within the system that we could not imagine ... ways in which to cure it."

Tennessee Death Penalty Committee Recommends Changes in Representation Standards

A legislative committee created to study the death penalty in Tennessee has recommended ways to ensure capital cases are handled fairly and effectively.  The committee approved a resolution that asks lawmakers to create a statewide authority whose duties would include identifying lawyers experienced in capital cases, raising the standard pay for such attorneys, and monitoring their caseloads.

Thomas Lee, a Tennessee attorney on the committee, said such an authority would help ensure that "trials are done right the first time."  The committee, created last year after the state legislature decided Tennessee’s death penalty system needed to be examined for fairness and accuracy, will present its findings to the Governor and lawmakers.

NEW VOICES: Law Enforcement Officer Changed Views Because of Death Penalty's Risks

Michael May served as a Baltimore City police officer and as a military police officer. He formerly supported  capital punishment, but changed his stance upon learning of innocent people who had been sentenced to death.  Mr. May testified earlier this yar before the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment.  He recently published an op-ed in the Baltimore Examiner explaining how his views changed and why he supports for repeal of Maryland’s death penalty.  The full op-ed appears below:

Time to end the death penalty in Maryland

Former Death Row Inmates Seek Changes in Texas

Two dozen exonerated ex-death row prisoners from across the country will hold a news conference on October 31 in Austin to call for the establishment of a statewide commission on wrongful convictions and a moratorium on executions in Texas. The 24 men spent a combined total of nearly 200 years on death row before being freed. They will be joined by State Rep. Elliot Naishtat and former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap (pictured).

Texas has executed 417 people since the reinstatement of the death penalty, accounting for 37 percent of all executions nationwide, including 12 so far this year. An additional 16 executions are scheduled in Texas this fall and winter. Nine death row inmates have been exonerated in Texas since 1973, including Michael Blair whose charges were dismissed this year.

(Witness to Innocence Press Release, Oct. 27, 2008). See Innocence and Recent Legislation.

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Rehearing in Kennedy v. Louisiana Opinion

On October 1, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Louisiana's request for a rehearing of the Court's ruling striking down the death penalty for non-homicidal offenses against individuals. Louisiana contended that a recent adjustment to military law that continued to allow the death penalty for child rape should have been taken into account by the Court, resulting in a different opinion. The Court slightly modified both the majority and dissenting opinions to include reference to the military code.

NEW RESOURCES: "Lessons from New York's Recent Experience with Capital Punishment"

Prof. James Acker has published an article in the latest edition of the Vermont Law Review entitled, “Be Careful What You Ask For: Lessons from New York’s Recent Experience with Capital Punishment.” The article explores the various standards by which the death penalty was evaluated during the last decade in New York. The public debate first addressed the question of, “Is it right?” with a focus on retribution, morality and religion. The second set of questions addressed was, “Is it useful? Is it cost-effective?

Criminal Justice Integrity Unit created by Texas High Court to Address Growing Concerns

A new Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit has been formed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to address concerns in the justice system and to work with inmates who may have been wrongfully convicted.  The state's highest court for criminal matters will study issues such as eyewitness identification, crime lab reliability, police interrogations, and standards for preserving evidence.  Since 2001, 33 men have been exonerated in Texas, including one man from death row.  Texas leads the country in executions.  Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey stat