GA Politicians Shrug at Death Penalty Concerns

by TChris

There are so many flaws in Georgia's administration of the death penalty that it took the ABA 323 pages to recount them all. The ABA wants Georgia to impose a moratorium on the death penalty until it resolves those problems. It's predictable that Georgia's Republican governor meets that suggestion with a yawn; it's distressing that the Democratic candidate for that office is equally unconcerned.

An ABA panel said it found seven weaknesses in the state's application of capital punishment. They included no guarantee of counsel at a habeas corpus appeal based on constitutional or procedural grounds; confusing jury instructions; and what the panel considered an unfair standard of proof for defendants to show mental retardation.

Georgia is the only state with the death penalty that does not guarantee a convicted murderer will have an attorney at habeas corpus appeals. The practice means some defendants must represent themselves or rely on an unpaid, volunteer lawyer.

The report says this "creates a situation where this critical constitutional safeguard is so undermined as to be ineffective."

Typical of the Georgia political attitude is this:

Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams (R-Lyons), who noted he would not support a moratorium, opposes the additional funding [for habeas counsel]. He said the state already spends too much money for habeas appeals.

"I've always had a problem with us spending taxpayer dollars helping those folks with their appeals after we already spent money prosecuting and defending them," he said Monday.

Maybe Williams dislikes paying for habeas proceedings because they're so effective. Since 1996, Georgia has managed to execute 19 prisoners, while 22 death row inmates have been granted new trials after habeas review.

More information, including a link to the report, can be found in the ABA's press release.

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