Tag: abolition

Saving 49 Lives (Part 2), The First Action Step

cross-posted from The Dream Antilles

Yesterday I wrote about the 49 people facing the death penalty in the federal courts because of decisions made by previous, Bushco AGs, and that these were lives we could save.  This essay continues that discussion.

The Bush Justice Department went far, far off the tracks on torture, rendition, black sites, wiretapping, the federal death penalty, and on and on and on.  It went so far afield that articles about this evening’s expected confirmation of Eric Holder as Attorney General note the gigantic changes expected at DoJ from the new, Obama Administration.  The NY Times, for example, writes:

The Justice Department, probably more than any other agency here, is bracing for a broad doctrinal shift in policies from those of the Bush administration, department lawyers and Obama administration officials say.

Please join me below.

A Mississippi Supreme Court Dissenting Opinion Calls For Death Penalty Abolition

cross posted from The Dream Antilles

Mississippi has long supported the death penalty.  So it is remarkable when a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice writes a dissenting opinion in a death penalty case that calls for the abolition of the death penalty.  In Doss v. State (pdf), Justice Oliver Diaz, Jr., did just that, he called for the end of the death penalty.

The Sun Herald reports:

Outgoing Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr.’s impassioned call for an end to the death penalty has drawn both criticism and praise.

In what was likely his departing dissent as his tenure on Mississippi’s highest court ends, Diaz says society finally must recognize that “even as murderers commit the most cruel and unusual crime, so too do executioners render cruel and unusual punishment.”

Jimmy Robertson, a Jackson attorney who served on the state Supreme Court from 1983 to 1992, said Diaz laid out a number of points, including that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder, that were “pretty close to being irrefutable to anybody that’s objective on the question.”

The criticism in the Sun Herald article was provided not by Mississippians but instead solely by Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation of Sacramento, a right wing, pro death penalty organization, who provided the usual shop worn generalities.

BREAKING: California Lethal Injection Protocol Invalidated

Great news.  A California Court of Appeal has invalidated California’s lethal injection protocol because the state failed to comply with the state’s Administrative Procedure Act.  The decision(pdf format) in Morales v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, holds that the State’ lethal injection protocol, “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAN QUENTIN OPERATIONAL PROCEDURE NUMBER 0-770 EXECUTION BY LETHAL INJECTION, is invalid and it enjoins California “from carrying out the lethal injection of any condemned inmates under OP 770 unless and until that protocol is promulgated in compliance with the APA.”

The more than 660 prisoners on California’s death row should briefly sigh some relief.  There is little doubt that the regulation will be re-enacted, but the struggle against state killing in California goes on, and today’s ruling is a great victory.

The Mercury News reports:

A state appeals court on Friday ensured further delays in California’s already inert death penalty system, finding that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration did not follow proper procedures when it attempted to revise the state’s lethal injection method to get executions back on track.

In a 14-page ruling, the San Francisco-based 1st District Court of Appeal upheld last year’s decision by a Marin County judge, who found state officials failed to provide public scrutiny of plans to overhaul California’s execution method. The appeals court ruling, if it stands, would force the state to go back to the drawing board in its efforts to bring the execution system into compliance with a federal judge’s concerns that the current method is unconstitutional.

The appeals court ruling will have a ripple effect on California’s bogged down capital punishment system. A broader legal challenge in federal court to California’s lethal injection method cannot move forward until the state comes up with a revised procedure, and that is now tied up further as a result of the appeals court’s findings.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Ronald Matthias, who supervises the state’s death penalty cases, was still reviewing the decision and could not predict the next step. But the state can either appeal to the California Supreme Court or move forward with public review of the proposed lethal injection reforms, and either process would take months or longer.

Executions in California have been on hold for more than 3 years because of challenges to the state’s lethal injection protocols.  The 2006 Judge Fogel stopped all California executions, but provided a number of steps state officials could take to ensure that executions were carried out humanely. The governor then ordered state prison officials to come up with a new plan.  The plan called for improved training and supervision of execution team members, as well as the construction of a new, modernized execution chamber. But plan was challenged in state court under the argument it violated state procedures that require public review, and Fogel put the federal case on hold until that issue was resolved.

Is the issue resolved now?  No.  The state can either try to adopt a new protocol, following the law, or it can appeal.  Either way, state killing cannot resume until the issues are resolved.

I applaud today’s ruling, and I compliment all of the people who have worked so diligently to stop state killing in California.

Obama: Stop Pandering To Barbarians

cross posted from The Dream Antilles

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week that Louisiana’s statute permitting the death penalty for child rape was unconstitutional.  The decision was a step against extending the barbarianism of the death penalty to crimes in which the victim was not killed.  

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the opinion, saying, in essence, that the crime, awful as it is, does not merit capital punishment.

“The incongruity between the crime of child rape and the harshness of the death penalty poses risks of over-punishment and counsels against a constitutional ruling that the death penalty can be expanded to include this offense,” Kennedy wrote.

He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.


Put simply, a majority of the Supreme felt that as a substantive matter, the death penalty for child rape was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and could not be permitted.

Supreme Court Upholds Lethal Injection

In a 7-2 decision today the US Supreme Court upheld Kentucky’s method of execution by lethal injection.  This will permit Kentucky to resume executions. And, worse, it will end the unofficial moratorium in the 35 other states that use lethal injections in their executions.

The decision is here.  It’s long. And it is not uplifting.

Justice Stevens concurred but wrote that he now believes capital punishment itself is unconstitutional.  It’s about time.  Only Justices Ginsberg and Souter dissented.  There were seven votes to permit the killing to continue.

This is awful news for the hundreds of prisoners facing execution on death rows across America.

This isn’t much of an essay.  I’m disgusted.  I feel gullible to have believed that the death penalty would be abolished by the Supreme Court because of the means the state uses to exterminate its prisoners. This, at best, seemed to me to be a nice flanking attack, but hardly one we could expect to end a barbaric practice that was created by legislative action and has been practiced since before the Constitution itself.  

At the very most, those who battle against this barbarism and fight for abolition have been given a slight breather, a chance to catch their breath.  The battle now resumes.  Again.  Every death penalty case has to be fought and fought hard.  Every state where abolition can be won in the legislature needs to be organized.  Every organization that funds anti death penalty litigation and organizing needs to receive your funds.  We all need to add our voices to the call to abolish the death penalty in all cases.

I’d like to think that the 7 months we’ve had of de facto moratorium have taught us one important thing.  We can live without the death penalty.


Nebraska Court Bans Electric Chair

cross posted from The Dream Antilles


Nebraska’s Electric Chair

I’m cheering and applauding.  Nebraska’s Supreme Court has dragged the state kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by forbidding the state, as a matter of State Constitutional Law, from using the electric chair to kill prisoners sentenced to death.  Because electrocution was the only means of execution in the Nebraska statute, the state has reluctantly now joined the nationwide de facto stay on state executions.

Join me in stir.

Doctors Should Not Be Involved In Executions


Today the New England Journal of Medicine has an editorial entitled, “Physicians And Execution.” The editorial makes it clear that medical doctors should never be involved in state killing.

This is extremely important and another significant step toward the abolition of state killing. How so?  “Lethal injection” was introduced to “medicalize” and lend moral authority to executions when hanging, gassing, and electrocution were finally recognized to be inhumane.  That is why those to be executed are required to lie on hospital like gurney (see above).  And that is why the gurney has sheets on it.  That is why in many cases hospital like curtains are used to surround the dead person after the execution.  The “medical” appearance of killing is intended to make it more palatable.    

More after the jump.

Propaganda: Mexico Thwarts US State Killings

Is the Associated Press another propaganda outlet for US wingnuts who justify state killing and don’t recognize Mexico’s sovereignty?  Apparently.  Tonight AP has a story that Mexico thwarts US death penalty cases because Mexico won’t extradite US fugitives unless the US signs on the dotted line that it will not execute them.  This isn’t news.  Mexico’s policy has been in place for thirty (30) years.

Well, maybe demanding an assurance that the extradited person won’t be killed is unusual?  It isn’t.

Other countries, including France and Canada, also demand such “death assurances” [that the extradited person won’t be executed]. But the problem is more common with Mexico, since it is often a quick drive from the crime scene for a large portion of the United States. /snip

The Justice Department said death assurances from foreign countries are fairly common, but it had no immediate numbers. State Department officials said Mexico extradited 73 suspects to the U.S. in 2007. Most were wanted on drug or murder charges.

No, the point of the story isn’t the policy.  It’s US exceptionalism and how Mexico should cave in to US barbarism and the death penalty and return fugitives slaves for execution:

“We find it extremely disturbing that the Mexican government would dictate to us, in Arizona, how we would enforce our laws at the same time they are complaining about our immigration laws,” said Barnett Lotstein, special assistant to the prosecutor in Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix.

“Even in the most egregious cases, the Mexican authorities say, `No way,’ and that’s not justice. That’s an interference of Mexican authorities in our judicial process in Arizona.” /snip

“If you can get to Mexico – if you have the means – it’s a way of escaping the death penalty,” said Issac Unah, a University of North Carolina political science professor. /snip

John Walsh, host of TV’s long-running “America’s Most Wanted,” … said the delays and death-penalty compromises needed to get fugitives returned can be heartbreaking for victims’ families

“It’s not about revenge. It’s not so much about closure. It’s about justice,” he said.

Lotstein, the prosecutor’s assistant in Phoenix, said the county has agreed to drop the death penalty in a number of cases: “The option we have is absolutely no justice, or partial justice.”

Is the point of the article that US justice is somehow were synonymous with state killing? Is the point of the article that Mexico is somehow obstructing US state killing?

No.  Those are incidental points.  The real point, the Britney Spears size point of the article is that the Marine who allegedly killed a pregnant Marine may have fled to Mexico after the crime and now prosecutors may have to agree not to kill him in exchange for having him returned to the US.  I’m sorry.  But this doesn’t seem to me to be unfair.  Not in the slightest.

What would be unfair is allowing this alleged killer, or for that matter anyone else, to be executed.

Is 2007 The Beginning Of The End Of The Death Penalty?


As 2007 draws to a close, it’s again time for the annual data about executions in the US.  From my abolitionist’s perspective, this year’s statistics are better than last year’s and are trending in the right direction.  But the numbers are especially troubling because they show a concentration of state killing and a continued enthusiasm for it in Texas.

Join me across the wall for the 2007 wrap up.

Finally Ending The Death Penalty

cross posted at The Dream Antilles

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On Thursday, the New Jersey legislature voted to end capital punishment in that state.  I was delighted by the breaking news, and posted an essay.  Yesterday, I learned that around the world, death penalty abolitionists were rejoicing and that in Italy the Coliseum was being illuminated in celebration.  I was delighted, and posted an essay.  Today my happiness continued.  The New York Times has an editorial about the death penalty.  It begins:

It took 31 years, but the moral bankruptcy, social imbalance, legal impracticality and ultimate futility of the death penalty has finally penetrated the consciences of lawmakers in one of the 37 states that arrogates to itself the right to execute human beings.

This week, the New Jersey Assembly and Senate passed a law abolishing the death penalty, and Gov. Jon Corzine, a staunch opponent of execution, promised to sign the measure very soon. That will make New Jersey the first state to strike the death penalty from its books since the Supreme Court set guidelines for the nation’s system of capital punishment three decades ago.

Some lawmakers voted out of principled opposition to the death penalty. Others felt that having the law on the books without enforcing it (New Jersey has had a moratorium on executions since 2006) made a mockery of their argument that it has deterrent value. Whatever the motivation of individual legislators, by forsaking a barbaric practice that grievously hurts the global reputation of the United States without advancing public safety, New Jersey has set a worthy example for the federal government, and for other states that have yet to abandon the creaky, error-prone machinery of death.

More over the jump.

Congratulations, New Jersey!!

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Yesterday I posted an essay announcing that New Jersey was about to legislatively abolish the death penalty.  I was elated.  Apparently, I was not alone.  Today the IHT reports:

Rome will light up the Colosseum in support of the planned abolishment of the death penalty in the U.S. state of New Jersey, a lay Roman Catholic organization said Friday.

The Sant’Egidio Community, which is at the forefront of an international anti-death penalty movement, said in a statement that the arena will be lit up when the state’s governor, Jon S. Corzine, signs the legislation within a week.

New Jersey is poised to become the first U.S. state in four decades to abolish the death penalty after votes by state legislators this week.

Sant’Egidio praised New Jersey’s decision, saying it is a “crucial passage” for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment.

Rome’s Colosseum, once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, has become a symbol of the fight against capital punishment. Since 1999, the first century monument has been bathed in golden light every time a death sentence is commuted somewhere in the world or a country abolishes capital punishment.

I am so happy that this news is receiving the response it deserves.  And I hope that those abolitionists who worked so very hard and consistently to bring about this legislation– that means you, too, Abe Bonowitz– are enjoying the fruits of their victory.  I also hope this will inspire all of the rest of us!

Breaking: New Jersey To Abolish Death Penalty

This from AP should bring cheers and applause:

The New Jersey Assembly approved legislation Thursday to abolish the state’s death penalty, making Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s signature as the only step left before the state becomes the first in four decades to ban executions.

Lawmakers voted 44-36 to replace the death sentence with life in prison without parole. Corzine, a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill within a week.

This is a fantastic victory by abolitionists in New Jersey, and something that should inspire those in the other states.

The vote comes as state executions across the US are on hold until the Supreme Court decides the lethal injection challenge.

Break out the champagne!!

Details on the vote now at Blue Jersey.

WaPo suggests the victory had its roots in the state’s finances:

The repeal bill follows the recommendation of a state commission that reported in January that the death penalty “is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.” But equally persuasive to lawmakers was not saving lives but money — it costs more to keep a prisoner indefinitely on death row than incarcerated for life.

And Reuters adds:

In New Jersey, a legislative commission in January 2007 recommended abolishing the death penalty, saying there was no clear evidence it deterred the worst crimes, and that it was “inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.”

I am so very pleased with this!  This is the best good news I’ve had all week!  I hope you all are enjoying this even a tenth as much as I am!!  

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