Morris News Service writer Walter C. Jones filed three state-specific news reports on the Carter Center symposium.
The Florida Times-Union posted, "Steps suggested to protect innocent in capital cases."
Georgia prosecutors, police and defense attorneys need more rigorous procedures in order to safeguard the innocent in death penalty cases, according to a review by the American Bar Association featured Tuesday during a daylong conference.
The study was part of a series of examinations the association’s civil-rights section made of the 12 states that conduct 65 percent of the nation’s executions. Many of the authors have acknowledged personal opposition to capital punishment.
“The ABA takes no stance on the death penalty outright. But we insist that if jurisdictions use the death penalty, they implement it fairly, accurately and with due process,” said James Silkenat, ABA president at the start of the conference at the Carter Center. He notes that the number of U.S. executions has declined from 85 in 2000 to less than half that this year and that polls show Americans’ support for capital punishment — 60 percent — is at its lowest point since 1972.
“The truth is that, as shown over and over again in our state assessment reports, the death penalty is still applied unpredictably,” Silkenat said. “And, more often than not, capital cases are unduly influenced by factors that have nothing to do with the defendant or the crime.”
“Georgia has long been ground zero in the legal debate over capital punishment,” he said. “Thus it is fitting that we are here today to begin a new discussion about the fairness of the death penalty in America.”
Georgia is the state that generated the U.S. Supreme Court decision that halted executions in the country in 1972 over racial disparity and the state that prompted the court to approve their resumption in 1976 after legal reforms.
"Bar Association study: Florida needs greater safeguards in death-penalty cases," is also in the Times-Union.
The study notes that Florida has released one person as innocent from Death Row for every three it has executed since 1973, the highest number of exonerations in the nation.
The specific advice for Florida calls for changing limits on how defense attorneys are compensated and boosting their qualifications for taking on a capital case. And it also objects to allowing juries that aren’t unanimous to deliver a death sentence or for judges to override the jury’s recommendations and order an execution. Plus, the Board of Executive Clemency should be more transparent, such as issuing a written statement every time it denies clemency.
The likelihood of these recommendations taking effect depends on the ability of activists to spur politicians to act, according to Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights.
Most of the conference participants favor repeal of the death penalty, and they left with more ammunition to do so.
The Amarillo Globe-News reports, "Review: Texas needs better policies to protect innocents."
The chairwoman of the ABA team that examined the Texas system, University of Texas professor Jennifer Laurin, is optimistic the Texas Legislature will take the advice to heart.
“I feel confident that a number of the recommendations — some of which have been considered by the legislature before — will be considered again,” she said.
“With not only the research behind the report, but also longer time and experience with some of the financial as well as justice-related pitfalls of our criminal justice system, there’ll be more momentum for it.”
The specific advice for Texas includes requiring written procedures for police in dealing with eyewitness identifications, videotaping of all interrogations while in custody, amending the law to allow greater post-trial testing of DNA evidence and higher funding for state crime labs.
The authors also called for abandoning of the “future dangerousness” question that jurors use in deciding a death sentence since Texas is the only state that requires it.
Texas exoneree Anthony Graves also spoke at the symposium.
Earlier coverage of the ABA Carter Center symposium begins in the preceding post. You can also jump to coverage of the ABA Texas Assessment.