Recent Legislative Activity

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

Maryland Creates Commission to Study Death Penalty

Maryland Governor O’Malley signed legislation creating a commission to study the death penalty on May 13. The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment is mandated to reflect on all sides of the issue and its members will include representatives from law enforcement, a prosecutor, a public defender, and family members of murder victims. The commission begins its work in July and should submit its findings by December 15, 2008.
Sun photo by Algerina Perna / May 13, 2008
The following representatives will serve on the commission:

EDITORIALS: Proposed Law Would Harm Younger Victims

The governor of Missouri, Matt Blunt, has proposed that his state expand the death penalty to include cases of sexual assault against children where the victim is not killed.  However, according to an editorial in the Springfield News-Leader, such a law would not protect children.  Instead, it could make it less likely that these offenses would be reported, would put the child in danger of even worse crimes, and would involve the child and the family in years of death penalty litigation.  The editorial cites the opinions of a leading child advocate and a prosecu

Senate Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony on Adequacy of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases

On April 8, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on "The Adequacy of Representation in Capital Cases." Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) presided over the session of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, which heard testimony from a variety of experts including Michael Greco, former President of the American Bar Association, Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, the Honorable Carolyn Temin of the Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania, and Donald Verilli, a partner at Jenner & Block. Copies of the testimony given, statements from members of the Judiciary Committee, and a Webcast of the proceedings are available here.

NEW VOICES: Law Enforcement Officers and Judges Address California Death Penalty

"California's Death Penalty is Broken"

On March 28, 2008 two letters were sent to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice--one from members of the law enforcement community and the other from judges, raising concerns about the state's death penalty.

Thirty law enforcement officers, including current and former prosecutors, police chiefs and other officers, signed a letter stating that “California’s death penalty is broken.” The letter cites multiple reasons why the state’s death penalty system is not working, such as the excessive costs of capital cases, the risk of wrongful convictions, and the stress placed on victims’ families. The signers noted,

By pursuing life without parole sentences instead of death, resources now spent on the death penalty prosecutions and appeals could be used to investigate unsolved homicides, modernize crime labs, and expand effective violence prevention programs.

Maryland Approves Death Penalty Study Commission

On March 24, Maryland lawmakers voted to create a commission to study the state’s death penalty. The House voted 89-48 and the Senate by 32-15 to establish the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment to research racial, socio-economical, and geographic disparities in the application of the death penalty as well as evaluate the risk of executing an innocent person. The commission will consider the costs of the death penalty as compared to a sentence of life without parole. Its findings and recommendations are due by December 15 and will be submitted to the General Assembly. Delegate Sandy Rosenberg stated that the bill aims to create “ a credible task force - one that will objectively look at the issues." The governor supports the establishment of the Commission.