Federal Death Penalty

NEW VOICES: All Democratic Candidates for Massachusetts Governor Oppose Death Penalty for Tsarnaev

In a debate held by the Boston Globe, all five Democratic candidates for governor of Massachusetts said they oppose the death penalty for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Candidate Don Berwick said, "The death penalty has no place in our jurisprudence." Juliette Kayyem, in an earlier statement on her Facebook page, said, "I have, based on my principles and on my work in death penalty appeals litigation in Alabama, always opposed the death penalty." The other candidates in agreement were Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman, and Joe Avellone. The current governor, Deval Patrick, has also said, "I am philosophically opposed to the death penalty." Earlier, the Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker said he supports the decision to seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev.

Resources on the Federal Death Penalty and Boston Marathon Case

On January 30 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the government would seek the death penalty in the federal prosecution of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. DPIC has a number of resources about the federal death penalty, including a list of federal death row inmates with descriptions of their cases, information about crimes eligible for the federal death penalty, a breakdown of outcomes in federal capital cases, and studies related to such issues as costs and racial disparities. We have also compiled legal documents related to the Tsarnaev case, including the recent notice of intent to seek the death penalty, the indictment, and initial charging document

Boston Bar Association Announces Opposition to Use of Federal Death Penalty

On January 7, the Boston Bar Association, representing more than 10,000 lawyers, released a statement opposing the use of the federal death penalty. The Association already had a longstanding position against the death penalty in state cases. Paul T. Dacier (pictured), the President of the Boston Bar, said, "Without equivocation, the death penalty has no place in the fair administration of justice and makes no sense on a practical level." The organization's new stance was based on a review of the death penalty by a working group chaired by retired Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle and Martin Murphy, a partner at Foley Hoag LLP. Murphy said, "The research we conducted confirms that death penalty prosecutions, including federal death penalty cases, are more expensive and time consuming, more subject to prolonged delays, and unlikely to produce a different result than where the prosecution seeks life without parole." The study also raised concerns about the "inevitability of error" in criminal cases.

COSTS: "Pursuing Death Penalty is Big Waste of Resources"

In a recent op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, the president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association discussed the high costs of the federal death penalty. In particular, Barbara Mandel detailed the expenses involved in the recent federal trial of John McCluskey. He was sentenced to life without parole, an outcome that Mandel wrote, "occurred years and at least a million dollars later than it should have.” According to the op-ed, McCluskey had been willing to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence less than death early on, and, in February 2013, a senior judge offered to mediate the case. Although then-U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzalez rejected the offer, he did acknowledge that federal capital prosecutions inflict logistical and financial burdens on the entire federal system.

EDITORIALS: Boston Globe Recommends No Death Penalty For Marathon Bomber

A recent Boston Globe editorial called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder not to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man accused of carrying out the bombing at the Boston Marathon. The editors said the lengthy death-penalty process would put the spotlight on the defendant to the detriment of the victims: "Years of proceedings, and their potential culmination in a death sentence, would also give Tsarnaev what he and his brother apparently sought: publicity and notoriety. Much better to let Tsarnaev slip into obscurity in a federal prison cell," the Globe wrote. In response to the possible use of the death penalty as a bargaining chip, the editorial stated, "Such a strategy raises worries about fairness under any circumstances, since it puts enormous pressure on defendants to give up their right to a trial." Finally, the editorial cited a recent poll finding 57% of Boston residents in favor of life without parole for Tsarnaev if he is convicted. Read the full editorial below.

PUBLIC OPINION: Boston Residents Favor Life Without Parole for Suspect in Marathon Bombing

A recent poll sponsored by the Boston Globe found that a significant majority of Boston residents favor life without parole over the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of respondents supported a sentence of life without parole if Tsarnaev is convicted, compared with only 33% who favored the death penalty.  Sixty-one (61) percent of Democrats and 49% of Republicans (a plurality) supported a sentence of life without parole. The option was endorsed by men and women, across all educational levels, and among white, black, and Hispanic respondents. The poll was conducted September 5−12 by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Although the death penalty is not available under Massachusetts law, Tsarnaev is facing federal charges. No decision has been made yet on whether the government will seek the death penalty.

FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY: Controversy With Rhode Island Ends in Plea Deal

The federal death penalty is controversial because it can be applied even in the 18 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico that have elected not to have capital punishment in their own law. Out of respect for the people of Rhode Island--a non-death penalty state--the governor, Lincoln Chafee (pictured), resisted turning over a defendant in 2011 to face the federal death penalty. The defendant, Jason Pleau, agreed to plead guilty to a series of charges including murder if he could be tried in state court. The federal government resisted this offer, and it eventually prevailed in a court challenge by the governor regarding custody of Pleau. Now the federal government has announced that it will accept a plea in federal court in exchange for not seeking a death sentence. Following the agreement, Gov. Chafee said, "The case today has reached a conclusion, and [the victim's] family can begin the long healing process. A life sentence is the appropriate punishment for this brutal crime and respects Rhode Island's longstanding opposition to the death penalty."

Only Inmate to Receive Federal Death Penalty in New York Again Sentenced to Death

On July 24, Ronell Wilson was re-sentenced to death by a federal jury in New York. Despite numerous capital prosecutions by the Department of Justice, no other person in the state has been given the death penalty since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988. New York's state death penalty law was found unconstitutional by the state Court of Appeals in 2004. By 2007, all seven of those sentenced to death under the state law had their sentences overturned. Wilson was first sentenced to death in 2007 for the murder of two undercover detectives in 2003, but the sentence was overturned in 2010. Wilson's lawyers argued that he suffered from mental retardation and was ineligible for capital punishment, but that motion was denied. His mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict. A judge is expected to formally sentence Wilson in the fall. There are currently 59 people on the federal death row, counting Wilson. No case in New York, state or federal, has resulted in an execution since 1963.

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