In a dissenting opinion filed in the capital case of Moore v. Parker, Judge Boyce Martin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit wrote that "the death penalty in this country is arbitrary, biased, and so fundamentally flawed at its very core that it is beyond repair." Among his many criticisms of the way capital punishment is applied in the U.S., Martin specifically noted his concerns about the issues of innocence, inadequate defense counsel, and the overall arbitrariness of the system. He wrote:
A new study by a team of researchers at the New York Times looks at the expanding use of life sentences in the American criminal justice system. The study, headed by Times reporter Adam Liptak, found that about 132,000 of the nation's prisoners, or almost 10%, are serving life sentences. Of those, 28% have life sentences with no chance of parole. This is a marked increase from a 1993 Times study that found 20% of all lifers had no chance of parole. Liptak also reported that about 9,700 people are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed yesterday to review the case of a death row inmate from South Carolina who was denied the opportunity at trial to present evidence of the possible guilt of another person. In Holmes v. South Carolina, No. 04-1327, the Court will consider whether the state's rules regarding such evidence deprived Holmes of his due process rights to present a complete defense. In 2004, the South Carolina Supreme Court had ruled that the state's evidence against Holmes was so strong that he should not be allowed to present evidence that another person had been seen near the scene of the crime and had confessed to the murder that Holmes was charged with. One judge dissented, saying that Holmes should have been allowed to put on evidence of third-party guilt because Holmes had sufficiently challenged the state's evidence against him. See the South Carolina decision in State v. Holmes.
In its coming term starting on October 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will also hear House v. Bell, concerning the standard of evidence needed for a new claim of innocence, and Oregon v. Guzek, concerning the right to put on evidence of innocence during the penalty phase of a capital trial.
Craig Haney, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has just published a new book, Death By Design: Capital Punishment as a Social Psychological System (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005). Haney explores a number of areas that skew death penalty sentencing in America:
Jury selection--By systematically screening out opponents of capital punishment, the process produces unrepresentative juries and juries that include a high concentration of people who are more inclined to convict defendants.
Recent research has revealed a close correlation between the U.S. states that historically carried out the most lynchings and the states that today have the highest homicide rates and most death sentences. In a study led by sociologist Steven Messner of the State University of New York at Albany, county data from 10 southern states where historically reliable information on vigilante lynchings between 1882 and 1930 is available were examined (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee).