By a vote of 4-3, the Florida Supreme Court has set aside an October 1st deadline for inmates to request DNA testing of evidence that could prove their innocence. The justices suspended the deadline while they consider the inmates' challenge to the rule's constitutionality. Arguments in the case are slated for November 7, 2003. According to the law that established the deadline, if inmates convicted prior to 2001 fail to file for testing before October 1, 2003, DNA evidence in their cases may be destroyed.
A recent North Carolina public opinion poll conducted for The News & Observer found that only 49% of voters polled approve of executions for those convicted of first-degree murder while 42% favor life in prison without parole as the punishment. Nine percent were unsure. The same poll registered 40% of respondents in support of a moratorium on executions and 53% in opposition to halting executions for two years while the state studies and fixes possible flaws in its death penalty system.
The Philadelphia law firm of Morgan Lewis recently celebrated the exoneration of John Thompson, who spent 18 years on Louisiana's death row before two of the firm's partners helped to win his freedom. Firm partners J. Gordon Cooney Jr. and Michael L. Banks provided Thompson with pro bono services that cost the firm $1.7 million in legal work and expenses over a 15-year period and involved 90 lawyers and support staff. According to the city's bar association, there is a massive need for additional lawyers to do more.
Former FBI Director William Sessions recently called on prosecutors and law enforcement officials to support broader access to DNA testing to address growing concerns about innocence. Sessions' comments in an op-ed in The Washington Post came just weeks after Kirk Bloodsworth, the nation's first death row inmate to be freed based on DNA testing, was informed that Baltimore County authorities had genetically linked another suspect to the crime using DNA evidence. Sessions stated:
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.