Flaws in Military Death Penalty Cases Exposed
McClatchy has a report today on the flaws in the military's death penalty system:
Of the 16 men sentenced to death since the military overhauled its system in 1984, 10 have been taken off death row. The military's appeals courts have overturned most of the sentences, not because of a change in heart about the death penalty or questions about the men's guilt, but because of mistakes made at every level of the military's judicial system.
The problems included defense attorneys who bungled representation, judges who didn't know how to properly instruct a jury and prosecutors who mishandled evidence....At almost every level - from trial to appeals - young, inexperienced lawyers routinely have been appointed to represent capital defendants.
McClatchy contrasts these cases with those of the 9/11 defendants: [More...]
[A]ll six Guantánamo detainees likely to face the death penalty before a separate military commissions system are guaranteed experienced attorneys....That's because a 2009 law requires the military to appoint qualified attorneys or "learned counsel" for the terrorism suspects. No such provision exists for the regular courts-martial where service members face criminal charges.
There's also racial disparities in the military system:
Ten of the 16 men who've been sentenced to death since 1984 were minorities. (Of those, six had their sentences overturned.)
...According to one recent study obtained by McClatchy Newspapers, minorities are twice as likely to be sentenced to death in courts-martial as their white counterparts, a statistic that's higher than is known to exist in most civilian court systems.
The military has not even established minimum standards for defense counsel in capital cases:
80 percent of all state systems, plus the federal court system, have set up minimum standards for the quality of the defense appointed in death penalty cases. The military has no such requirement for its courts-martial,
The death penalty should be abolished in both civilian and military courts. Since that's not likely to occur any time soon, in the meantime, the military should at least ensure that death penalty trials are not conducted like espisodes of Amateur Hour.
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