Relying on the fundamental importance of a defendant's right to a jury trial, a federal appeals court issed a ruling that could overturn many sentences in Arizona, Montana, and Idaho. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that an inmate's substantive constitutional rights were at issue when he was sentenced under state laws that permitted judges instead of juries to determine eligibility for the death penalty. By a vote of 8-3, the court ruled that the 2002 Supreme Court's ruling in Ring v.
A recent investigation by a special prosecutor into the Chicago-based "Ford Heights Four" case revealed that police and prosecutors perpetuated a "tunnel vision" mentality that kept them from pursuing the real perpetrators of the crime. Former prosecutor and judge Gino DiVito led the independent investigation conducted by the FBI and federal prosecutors.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has released its latest edition of "Death Row USA." The total number of inmates on death row again declined from the previous report, marking a sharp reversal from the years of death row increases between 1973 and 2000. A total of 3,517 inmates remain on death row. The only jurisdictions recording death row population increases were Alabama, Arizona, California, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, and the Federal Government. See Death Row USA. (NAACP-LDF, Death Row USA, July 1, 2003).
Delaware County prosecutors and defense attorneys for Nicholas James Yarris have jointly asked the court to vacate his 1982 capital conviction after DNA testing showed that Yarris was not the source of evidence found on the body of the victim. While prosecutors have the option of retrying Yarris, defense attorneys note that they are "not aware of any evidence in Nick's case" that is strong enough to warrant a new trial.
Jurors sentenced a man accused of raping his step-daughter in Louisiana to death based on a state law that was adopted in 1995. The law states that the death penalty can be sought for aggravated rape if the victim is under the age of 12. The other penalty available to the jurors was a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. (Associated Press, August 27, 2003) Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, no one in the United States has been executed except for a crime involving murder.
Opposition to the death penalty appears to grow the longer a country has been without the punishment. A Gallup International poll in 2000 found that 60% of western Europeans opposed the death penalty, while 60% of eastern Europeans (where abolition is still being debated) support the death penalty. In France, a TNS Sofres poll revealed that two decades after abolition of the death penalty, 49% of respondents opposed reintroduction of the policy compared with 44% who wanted to reinstate capital punishment.
Following U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf's opinion in the federal capital prosecution of Gary Lee Sampson expressing his reservations about the risks of executing the innocent (click here for article), the Buffalo News raised similar concerns in a recent editorial:
In a 4-3 decision to vacate the death sentence of juvenile offender Christopher Simmons, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the juvenile death penalty violates the nation's evolving standards of decency and is therefore unconstitutional. Noting that "a national consensus has developed against the execution of juvenile offenders," the Court's opinion cited evidence such as the growing number of states that have banned the practice. The Court resentenced Simmons to life in prison without parole.