Kentucky

Kentucky

NEW VOICES: The Conservative Case for Death Penalty Repeal in Kentucky

David Floyd, a Republican state representative in Kentucky, recently introduced a bill to repeal the state's death penalty, arguing that the law was incompatible with conservative values. Writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Floyd said his religious views initially caused him to oppose the death penalty, but he made a broader pragmatic case for repeal from a conservative perspective. He pointed to values such as respect for life, limiting government power, and cutting wasteful spending, as reasons to support abolition. He said, "Capital punishment in Kentucky is a broken government program that risks killing the wrongly convicted, risks abuse of power, wastes resources, is arbitrary and unjust." He concluded, "Conservatives must work with people across the political spectrum to expose the many deficiencies of Kentucky’s system of capital punishment. And then we must repeal it." Read the op-ed below.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Kentucky Case on Death Penalty Jury Instructions

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in White v. Woodall, a death penalty case from Kentucky, to be heard during the Court's next term. Robert Woodall pleaded guilty to capital murder and chose not to testify in the sentencing phase of his trial. His attorneys requested that the judge instruct the jury not to draw any adverse inferences from Woodall's decision not to testify on his own behalf, but the request was denied because the judge concluded that Woodall's guilty plea waived his right to be free from self-incrimination. Woodall was sentenced to death. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ordered a resentencing, holding, "The due process clause requires that a trial court, if requested by the defendant, instruct the jury during the penalty phase of a capital trial that no adverse inference may be drawn from a defendant's decision not to testify." Kentucky has challenged that decision and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the matter.

Many States to Consider Death Penalty Abolition and Reform in 2013

As legislative sessions begin across the country, legislators in several states have proposed bills to abolish or reform the death penalty in 2013. In Alabama, Sen. Hank Sanders will introduce bills to abolish the death penalty, or alternatively to institute a series of reforms. “I believe the death penalty is not only unproductive but counter-productive,” he said. Texas will also consider a number of death penalty reform bills, including restrictions on certain types of evidence, and the creation of an innocence commission. Colorado Sen. Claire Levy is drafting a bill to abolish the death penalty. "We have increasing concerns about the possibility of executing an innocent person," said Levy. Kentucky Rep. Carl Rollins plans to propose a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley has voiced support for a bill to end the death penalty and direct some of the money saved to murder victims' families. New Hampshire's Gov. Margaret Hassan also supports abolition, and a bill is likely to be introduced in that state. In Oregon, where Gov. John Kitzhaber instituted a moratorium on executions for the remainder of his term, Rep. Mitch Greenlick plans to introduce a bill beginning the process of abolishing the death penalty.

NEW VOICES: Kentucky Human Rights Commission Recommends Death Penalty Abolition

On October 17, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, a state agency that enforces civil rights, unanimously passed a resolution in favor of ending the death penalty. The Commission urged the Kentucky General Assembly to repeal the death penalty and Governor Steven Beshear to sign any such legislation that is brought before him. The resolution underscored the unfairness of capital punishment: “[S]tatistics confirm that the imposition of the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on minorities and the poor." Moreover, the resolution pointed to the high error rate in Kentucky capital cases: "Since 1976, when Kentucky reinstated the death penalty, 50 of the 78 people sentenced to death have had their death sentence or conviction overturned, due to misconduct or serious errors that occurred during their trial. This represents an unacceptable error rate of more than 60 percent.” The resolution will be given to each legislator and to the governor.

NEW VOICES: Kentucky Prosecutors Call for Death Penalty Reform

An Op-Ed signed by eleven current and former Kentucky prosecutors calls for reforms to Kentucky's death penalty, in light of the recent report issued by the American Bar Association. The ABA report was released in December after a two-year study of fairness and accuracy in capital cases in Kentucky. The prosecutors cite Kentucky's "unacceptable" 60% error rate in death sentencing, saying "As a matter of basic fairness, we must pause to understand and reform the way capital punishment is administered in our state." They recommend a suspension of executions until reforms are implemented, in order to ensure a fair process. Among their suggestions for reform are a proposal currently being considered by the state legislature that would exempt severly mentally ill defendants from the death penalty. Other recommendations include preservation and testing of biological evidence, increased funding for indigent defense, and revision of jury instructions. They conclude, "The hallmark of our criminal justice system is that its process is fair and its results are reliable and accurate. Our reversal rate undermines this hallmark. These troubling issues in capital cases must be addressed now."

Read full op-ed below.

NEW VOICES: Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justices Call for Halt to Executions

Two former Supreme Court Justices in Kentucky and the President of the American Bar Association called for a suspension of executions in the state until its death penalty system is reformed.  Writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Justices stated, "The list of problematic cases is staggering, and review of the system is deeply troubling. Fairness, impartiality and effectiveness of counsel have been undermined by serious flaws that reveal systemic problems in administration of the death penalty in the commonwealth." Citing findings from a recent study conducted by the ABA, former Justices James Keller (pictured) and Martin Johnstone, along with William Robinson, President of the ABA, noted that since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated, 50 of the 78 people who have been sentenced to death have had their sentence or conviction overturned due to misconduct or serious errors that occurred during their trial. The writers said, “In Kentucky, we cannot be certain that our death penalty system is fair and accurate. Our Death Penalty Assessment Team of lawyers, judges, bar leaders and legal experts conducted an exhaustive, two-year review of the death penalty system and identified a host of problems at various stages of the capital process, many of which increase the risk of executing the innocent. The problems affect not only those possibly facing execution, but also victims of crime.” Read full op-ed below.

STUDIES: American Bar Association Releases Assessement of Kentucky's Death Penalty

On December 7, the American Bar Association released a report assessing Kentucky's system of captial punishment and calling for a halt to executions in the state.  The report was prepared by the Kentucky Assessment Team on the Death Penalty, which included law professors, former state supreme court justices, and practicing attorneys.  The two-year study recommended that the state temporarily suspend executions until serious issues of fairness and accuracy are addressed.  The review reported that courts have found an error rate of more than 60 percent in the trials of those who had been sentenced to death.  The review also found that at least 10 of the 78 defendants sentenced to death were represented by attorneys who were subsequently disbarred. Among the problems identified by the Assessment Team were the absence of statewide standards governing the qualifications and training for attorneys in capital cases, and uniform standards on eyewitness identifications and interrogations.  Many of Kentucky's largest law enforcement agencies do not fully adhere to best practices to guard against false eyewitness identifications and false confessions, two of the leading causes of wrongful convictions nationwide.  Linda Ewald, a law professor at the University of Louisville who co-chaired the assessment team, said, “We came in to this with no real idea of what we would find.  But at the close of our two-year deliberations, we were left with no option but to recommend that the Commonwealth halt executions until the problems we identified are remedied. This report is really about the administration of justice in Kentucky.”

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

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