Arbitrariness

Pennsylvania Man Freed From Death Row

Dennis Counterman was freed from a Pennsylvania courtroom on October 18, 2006 after serving many years on the state's death row.  Counterman had been convicted and sentenced to death in 1990 for allegedly setting a fire in his own house that resulted in the death of his three children.  That conviction was overturned in 2001 because prosecutors had withheld evidence from the defense indicating that the oldest child had a history of fire-setting. 

REPRESENTATION: Judges Criticize Incompetent Representation in Texas

One attorney's appeal brief on behalf of a Texas death row inmate was so poorly written that State District Judge Noe Gonzalez of Edinburg wrote that "Applicant totally misinterprets what actually occurred in this case."  A committee of citizens and attorneys filed a complaint about the appellate lawyer with the State Bar of Texas, but nothing was done: the lawyer remains on the state's list of approved death penalty attorneys, and the client remains on death row.

ABA Panel Calls for Extensive Changes in Flordia's Death Penalty System

An eight-member panel convened by the American Bar Association and consisting of prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges concluded a two-year study of Florida's death penalty system.

BOOKS: "Back from the Dead" by Joan Cheever

Back From The Dead: One woman’s search for the men who walked off America’s death row is the story of 589 former death row inmates who, through a lottery of fate, were given a second chance at life in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished.  Joan Cheever, a former editor of the National Law Journal, who also represented a death row inmate in Texas, traveled the country interviewing inmates who had been condemned to death but whose sentences were reduced to life when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia in 1972.

Costs and Geography Contribute to Death Penalty's Arbitrariness

The death penalty is rarely sought in the city of Baltimore, but in adjoining Baltimore County almost every eligible case becomes a capital case.  Presently, there are 7 active death-penalty cases in Baltimore County, more than the city of Baltimore has had overall in the past 2 decades.  In addition to the different philosophies of the respective State's Attorneys, the costs of the death penalty are a significant factor.  Prosecutors estimate that a death penalty case costs taxpayers $500,000, just for the trial and penalty phases.  Donald Giblin, one of Baltimore's pro

Texas May Release Former Death Row Inmate

Anthony Graves, who was sentenced to death in Texas in 1994, may soon be released on bail.  Graves' conviction was overturned in March 2006 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit because prosecutors had withheld two pieces of important evidence from Graves' attorneys prior to his trial.  One of the main witnesses against Graves, a co-defendant who participated in the crime, recanted his earlier testimony.  The federal court has given Texas until September 12, 2006 to either retry Graves or to dismiss charges.  Texas requested more time because it has appealed the 5th Circuit ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the request was denied.

INTERNATIONAL RESOURCE: "A Rare and Arbitrary Fate" - the Death Penalty in Trinidad & Tobago

A new study on the use of the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago has been published by Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal.  The authors closely examine prosecutions under the country's mandatory death penalty statute, which requires imposition of a death sentence whenever a defendant is found guilty of murder.  The study found that, despite a high number of killings, relatively few people were convicted of murder, and not necessarily those who committed the most heinous crimes.

NEW RESOURCES: South Carolina Study Finds Arbitrariness in Death Penalty Along Racial, Gender and Geographical Lines

A sophisticated statistical study of homicide cases in South Carolina by Professor Isaac Unah of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and attorney Michael Songer found that prosecutors were more likely to seek the death penalty when the victim in the underlying murder was white, if the victim was female, and when the crime occurred in a rural area of the state.

The authors first examined the raw data of homicide cases in South Carolina over a 5-year period and noted:

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