What's New

Florida Supreme Court Asked to Clarify Impact of Ring Decision

Posted: April 30, 2004
A District Court panel in Florida has endorsed a special verdict form that asks jurors to specify what elements of a crime warrant a death penalty. The District Court certified its decision as a matter of great public importance and asked the Florida Supreme Court to review the rulings, noting “this ruling could affect many cases that may ultimately be

Another Federal Death Penalty Case Results in Life Sentence

Posted: April 29, 2004
After less than five hours of deliberation, jurors in a federal death penalty case in Maryland returned life sentences for two men convicted earlier of federal drug conspiracy charges and firearms violations. The federal case against Michael Taylor and Keon Moses was the first time since 1998 that U.S. prosecutors in Baltimore had sought a death sentence. The life sentences for Taylor and Keon continue a national trend identified last year by the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. In an August 2003 report, the Project

NEW RESOURCE: North Carolina Web Site Contains Valuable Information on Moratorium Issue

Posted: April 28, 2004
North Carolina may become the first state to enact a moratorium on executions through the legislative process. A moratorium measure has already passed their Senate and is awaiting action in the House. A new Web site launched by the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium, www.ncmoratorium.org, contains a vast amount of information related to this important issue. Among the topics examined are the quality of counsel, innocence, costs, access to DNA testing, deterrence, race,

State Legislators Advance Bills to Ban Juvenile Death Penalty

Posted: April 27, 2004
Just weeks after legislators in Wyoming and South Dakota passed legislation to ban the execution of juvenile offenders, lawmakers in Florida are on a similar course that may send a bill that eliminates the death penalty for those under the age of 18 to Governor Jeb Bush for signature into law. Members of the Florida Senate passed the juvenile death penalty ban by a vote of 26-12, and the House is expected to take up the measure later this week. Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, who had been opposed to raising the minimum the age for capital offenders,

POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: Texas Man May Soon Be Freed From Death Row

Posted: April 26, 2004
More than two decades after Max Soffar was sentenced to die for a Houston-area triple murder, an appellate court has ruled that his court-appointed attorney inadequately represented him during his 1980 trial and that he deserves to be retried within 120 days or freed from Texas’s death row. Although no evidence linking Soffar to the crime was ever found and his accounts of the murders, contained in what are believed to be false confessions, varied vastly from several eyewitnesses, Soffar’s defense attorney failed to pursue evidence that could have proven his client’s

NEW RESOURCE: The Problem of False Confessions in a Post-DNA World

Posted: April 23, 2004
“The Problem of False Confessions in a Post-DNA World,” a recent study published in the North Carolina Law Review, found that juvenile offenders were involved in 33% of the cases where the defendant confessed to a crime that he or she did not commit. Ninety-two percent of the cases involved false confessions from individuals under the age of 40, and more than half were under the age of 25. According to the study’s authors, law professors Richard Leo of the University of California at Irvine and Steve Drizin, of Northwestern University, this finding suggests that those under the age

U.N. Human Rights Commission Calls for International Death Penalty Moratorium

Posted: April 22, 2004
By a vote of 29-19, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution calling on all nations to declare a moratorium on executions. The resolution cited concerns about the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty. In order to address these problems, the resolution calls on nations that no longer use the death penalty to remove it from their laws, and for countries that continue to carry out executions to limit the number of crimes that may be punished by death. The resolution stated that justice officials should refuse to

NEW RESOURCES: Study Examines the Scope of Mistakes in Criminal Cases

Posted: April 21, 2004
Researchers at the University of Michigan identified 328 criminal cases, including 73 death penalty cases, over the last 15 years in which the defendant was ultimately exonerated. The study suggested that many more innocent people are in prison today. Most of the cases studied involved murder and rape, crimes that are subjected to the most intense police investigation but that can also provide defendants with the opportunity to prove their innocence based on DNA evidence. Of the 328 cases of innocence examined by law professor Samuel R. Gross and

Supreme Court To Consider Applicability of Prior Ruling to Over 100 Death Row Inmates

Posted: April 14, 2004
On Monday, April 19, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Schriro v. Summerlin that will determine whether a prior decision applies only to some death row inmates in the first stage of their appeals or to all inmates in the affected states. In 2002, the Court held in Ring v. Arizona that juries, not judges, must decide who is eligible for the death penalty. The new ruling could affect over 100 death row inmates in at least 5 states. At the conclusion of Summerlin’s 1982 trial, Judge Philip Marquardt, who was

Juvenile Offender's Conviction Overturned After DNA Tests

Posted: April 14, 2004
District Attorney Paul Connick has agreed that Ryan Matthews, a juvenile offender on Louisiana’s death row, deserves a new trial. Matthews has maintained his innocence since his arrest. Attorneys for Matthews will use the retrial as an opportunity to present new DNA evidence that they believe exonerates their client. Testing of seven DNA profiles gathered as part of key evidence in the case excludes Matthews as the offender, and several point to the guilt of another man, Rondell Love. After Matthews was arrested, Love was convicted of another murder that