Eight years after the death penalty was reinstated in New York, the number of death sentences sought by prosecutors has sharply declined. According to the New York Capital Defender Office, the number of death penalty notices filed has dropped from a record-high 14 in 1998 to just two so far in 2003. Howard R. Relin, a long-time district attorney in Rochester and death penalty supporter, noted: "D.A.'s are being more and more careful in making that determination.
After U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft authorized a federal death penalty prosecution against two Massachusetts men accused of a gang murder, the local Suffolk County District Attorney, Daniel F. Conley, objected to using capital punishment to end urban violence, stating, "I do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent or appropriate punishment for inner-city homicide.
The Washington Post recently responded to Judge Jane Marum Roush's decision allowing Virginia to seek the death penalty for Lee Boyd Malvo despite treaties forbidding such a sentence for juveniles. The paper's editorial noted that while the judge's decision may be legally correct, it "does not render Virginia's (juvenile death penalty) policy any less abhorrent." The editorial went on to state:
In an effort to prevent wrongful convictions and ensure accurate eyewitness identification, the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission has recommended new procedures for state law enforcement agencies. The commission was formed by state Supreme Court Justice Beverly Lake and is comprised of judges, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others.
An August 2003 Charlotte Observer/NBC-6 poll revealed that nearly half of those surveyed in North and South Carolina say the states should pause executions until the death penalty system is deemed fair. Of the 908 respondents, 48% voiced support for a moratorium on executions and 41% were opposed. While men were about equally split on the question, 50% of women favored a moratorium and 35% opposed it. Among African American respondents, 67% favored a moratorium, while 42% of white respondents said that they would support halting executions.
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has issued a temporary reprieve for death row inmate Philip Workman, who was scheduled for execution on September 24th. Noting that there is an ongoing federal criminal investigation that may shed light on Workman's case, Bredesen stated, "So long as there are outstanding issues that may be related to this case, the only proper thing to do is to wait until those questions have been answered.
An International coalition of non-governmental organizations will sponsor a World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10th, 2003. The coalition will host local events throughout the world to draw attention to their concerns about capital punishment. Among the events scheduled are debates, concerts, and lectures. The coalition will also host an Internet event urging repeal of the death penalty in all countries that maintain the practice, including the United States.
As the October 1st deadline for Florida inmates to request DNA testing of evidence that could prove their innocence looms, Broward County prosecutors have announced that they will allow inmates access to the crucial testing after the deadline passes. Two of Florida's highest-profile DNA exonerations, Frank Lee Smith, who died of cancer on death row 11 months before he was exonerated by DNA evidence, and Jerry Frank Townsend were both Broward County cases.
"The Wrong Men: America's Epidemic of Wrongful Death Row Convictions" by Stanley Cohen is slated for release in October 2003. This book tells the story of how more than 100 innocent people found themselves on death row in the United States. Through an examination of eyewitness error, jailhouse snitches, racism, junk science, prosecutorial misconduct, and incompetent counsel, Cohen provides a behind-the-scenes look at the problems leading to wrongful convictions. He also captures the stories of those individuals whose dogged determination helped exonerate the innocent.
The most recent comprehensive report summarizing legislative, judicial, public policy, and other developments that have occurred since the American Bar Association's adoption of its death penalty moratorium resolution in February 1997 is now available. "Building Momentum: The American Bar Association Call for a Moratorium on Executions Takes Hold" covers activity from August 2001 to June 2003. It is the fourth edition of the ABA's moratorium activity update series.