More on Judge Rakoff's Death Penalty Ruling
Kudos to Judge Jed S. Rakoff for his courageous and well-reasoned decision in U.S. v. Quinones declaring the federal death penalty unconstitutional and violative of due process because there is too big a risk that innocent people are being executed.
Since 1973, 101 people in 24 states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. Check out this breakdown by state and year. To understand how this can happen, take a look at Convicted By Juries, Exonerated by Science, a study commissioned and published by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice, and cited by Judge Rakoff in his decision.
Reporters and commentators are noting Judge Rakoff did not rely on the 8th Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment to arrive at this conculusion. He looked at the irrefutable and steady data that has been pouring in the last few years proving that more than 100 people have been found factually innocent after being sentenced to die. Among the most important of studies in recent years is A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995, by Professors James Liebman and Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University, also relied upon by Judge Rakoff.
DNA often is not available for years after conviction to prove innocence. How does one prove one's innocence after he's dead? We agree with Judge Rakoff that this is a due process violation. Could there be a bigger one?
And while we are cheering Judge Rakoff, let's not forget to send loud hoots and raspberries to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
From the ACLU : "Recent reports show that since taking office last year, Attorney General Ashcroft has reversed the recommendations of his agencyís own prosecutors at least 12 times ñ each time ordering them to seek execution in cases where they had recommended against doing so. This aggressive pursuit to execute is unconscionable when so many questions about fairness continue to exist. "
The New York Times had an excellent editorial today commending Judge Rakoff and his opinion. For analysis of the opinion, we like Daily Kos who got right on it yesterday. Tom Perrotta of the New York Law Journal is also worth a read.
Where do we go from here?
Then let's study the problem without anyone being at risk of wrongful execution. For more information about these bills, and what you can do to help, check out The Moratorium Campaign and The Justice Project Press Information Kit.
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