Bill Clinton Supports Revising Death Penalty Appeal Process In Light Of DNA Advances

In a conference with bloggers at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting held in New York September 20-22, former President Bill Clinton said that advances in DNA evidence technology should lead to reform of death penalty appeal procedures. Questioned by Amanda Turkel of the Huffington Post about the execution of Troy Davis, former President Clinton said:

In any case where there's any chance that any DNA evidence could change the outcome of the trial -- I think that -- this is just me now -- I think that the appeals process has to be slowed down and organized so that any evidence of innocence can always be presented and then acted upon.

As Turkel notes, the appellate process for death penalty cases was severely hampered by the the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which Clinton signed into law.

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    Not just DNA (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Peter G on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:30:48 AM EST
    There are many other advances in the forensic sciences that place in doubt prior convictions that seemed rock solid at the time. For example, the standards for the investigation of suspicious fires have been revolutionized in the last 15+ years.  Evidence thought to "prove" arson rather than accident is no longer considered probative at all.  The notorious Willingham case in Texas (written up in the New Yorker, and the impetus for the creation of the Forensic Sciences Commission that Perry later gutted) is an example. There must not be a special rule on reopening apparent miscarriages of justice that is limited to DNA cases.

    I can only report on what he says (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:35:57 AM EST
    I was a the meeting, and in terms of reform, this is what he said. Not anything more.

    Frankly, he dodged the Troy Davis question.

    I'll write up a couple of post over the weekend on other stuff he said.


    As a former prosecutor, I'm curious (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 11:04:43 AM EST
    if any of the convictions on any of my cases has stood the test of time.

    Have any of your prosecutions (none / 0) (#19)
    by me only on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 01:14:22 PM EST
    been overturned with actual innocence?

    As an aside, would you know (meaning are you somehow informed by the system about this)?


    Not that I know of. But I am not (none / 0) (#20)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 01:26:37 PM EST
    on any notification list.  

    If there is an appeal that calls into (none / 0) (#21)
    by me only on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 01:36:42 PM EST
    question the admissibility of evidence, are you ever contacted about your notes?

    I've always wondered how former prosecutors feel about these things.  I would find it somewhat disconcerting to find out that what I was completely convinced of in the past to be completely wrong.

    Thanks for your reply.


    I only tried one murder case. Conviction. (none / 0) (#23)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 02:07:17 PM EST
    But, on appeal, court reporter reveals cannot locate first day's testimony, i.e., the kid eye witness testified the first day.  At trial court hearing re missing court reporter tapes, I produce my extensive, detailed notes of the testimony.  Defense attorney, or course, says he has minimal notes and doesn't provide them to the court.  Court reads its extensive, detailed notes into the record.  I request court place the written notes into the record.  Judge hesitates, says, when he gets a bit bored he draws in the margins.  What he draws is a tracing of a paper clip.  Anyway, he did put his notes into the record.  Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction.  

    Thanks. (none / 0) (#25)
    by me only on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 02:49:30 PM EST
    I assume the the defendant was not sentenced to death.

    Small chance of a death penalty case (none / 0) (#28)
    by jbindc on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 03:08:25 PM EST
    From a Q&A with Richard Dieter, Executive Director Of The Death Penalty Information Center about the costs of the death penalty:

    OOTS News: When you say most of them aren't actually executed, is it because they end up dying on death row?

    Dieter: A few do, but more cases are overturned on appeal. The sentence is overturned. They get a new sentencing hearing or they just reduce it to life.  In one study of the death row all over the country, two-thirds of the cases are overturned on appeal. Then when they are redone, about 80 percent get life the second time around. Most are overturned and most get life sentence when they are overturned. Most people aren't executed even when they get the death sentence.  Over the course of the death penalty, of the sentence that have been handed down, less than 15 percent have been executed. Some are still on death row, but some of those are going to be overturned. Some get clemency, some die, it is legal changes, but overwhelmingly there are legal reversals that change it.

    Example: Charles Manson. (none / 0) (#34)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:02:41 PM EST
    Not a death penalty case. (none / 0) (#32)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:01:52 PM EST
    Begs the question (none / 0) (#49)
    by Rojas on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 09:50:58 AM EST
    ie, Lack of notes....
    Was the attorney sleeping that day?

    My layman's opinion, if the state cannot preserve the trial record, defendant should get a do over.


    Should add--this is ancient history. (none / 0) (#24)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 02:46:49 PM EST
    Well today, they have this new (none / 0) (#26)
    by me only on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 02:50:32 PM EST
    fangled finger print analysis or something...

    Avoiding the obvious (none / 0) (#54)
    by Rojas on Sun Sep 25, 2011 at 05:41:50 AM EST
    He added that increased reliance on DNA evidence and its ability to decisively prove the innocence or guilt of a defendant is the "the most important thing that's happened in criminal justice in the last 30 years."

    By any rational measure the most important thing that happened in criminal justice in this country over the last 30yrs is the exponential increase in incarceration rates. Not only did he preside over much of it, but demagoguery from the soap seller himself is directly responsible for the increase in sentences and prison as the solution for every social ill attitudes that led to it.  It's a national disaster, man made, much of his doing and it's no wonder he dodges the questions.

    Back to your point about DNA and the sorry state of our forensic sciences in general. What post conviction DNA testing tells us, quite simply, is how often we get it wrong. Its an auditing tool, an indicator, objective and binary. Pass/fail criteria for measuring the output from our so-called justice system. Of course DNA is only available in a small minority of cases but the inputs from the process are the same.

    An enlightened society would use this tool the same way we used the electron scanning microscope to improve metallurgy. You can't do physical testing on every axle that goes down the assembly line. It's impractical, output would grind to a halt. You audit the process. You have a tool that can distinguish good parts from bad.  What are the inputs that produce good results? What are the variations that lead to bad parts? Go back and work on these. Close the loop and do it again.

    With respect to our justice system the data set is already there. Post conviction DNA testing tells us our system is dysfunctional. The big dog knows this. If anything, he is not mentally subnormal, quite the contrary. But he was one of the architects. His craft is one of self preservation with a minor in selling the subjective. He is a master of the craft. The soap selling sob cannot provide an objective answer. It's simply not in his DNA.


    I know Clinton is a smart guy, but (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Anne on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 11:37:55 AM EST
    this was a dumb and dodgy answer.

    The problem is the death penalty itself, because we are never going to have a system or a process that is 100%; there will always be mistakes, there will always be procedural problems, there will always be tension between the rights of the defendant and what the law and precedent allow.  And, most important, the rulings up and down the line are all made by human beings who are, as we know, highly fallible.

    A better question, in follow-up, would have been, "So, you support the death penalty, but you think the process should, before a death sentence is carried out, err on the side of not taking a potentially innocent life?  Does this mean you no longer support the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which made the appeals process more, not less, difficult?"

    That would have been, perhaps, a harder question to finesse with buzz words; DNA isn't the be-all and end-all of the problem.

    When bloggers met with him in 2006 (5.00 / 2) (#31)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:00:16 PM EST
    I asked him directly if he was sorry now that so many mandatory minimums had come in under laws passed during his presidency (that he supported) and he said he kind of was. He acknowledged his regret that so many mandatory minimum laws were enacted during his Presidency and  he criticized America's over-incarcerating ways. As I wrote then:

    We also talked about America's criminal justice system, how politicians are too afraid to do what's right, about the over-jailing of offenders, particularly those with minor drug offenses, about mandatory minimum sentences and how they haven't worked or promoted fairness. He said former offenders should regain the right to vote.

    I didn't ask him about AEDPA though, only mandatory minimums.

    When he stands up and says... (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 09:55:30 AM EST
    ...what a scumbag he has been on this issue, then his slight "change of heart" might mean something.

    Bill Clinton has proven useless post-presidency.  At least Jimmy Carter is deeply committed to humanitarian causes, Clinton just keeps doing his corporate schtick.  The corporatist Democratic Party that he helped build has also proven to be a steaming pile of dung.  No offense to dung.

    Go eat some more Vegan cheese, you sack of we brownies.  We'll let you know when the DNA tests come back.

    Good lord...

    heh (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:02:46 AM EST
    I think you make some valid points, but I chuckled at your form of expre4ssion. I at least appreciated it.

    Please: has there been a Democratic (none / 0) (#16)
    by the capstan on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 12:18:25 PM EST
    president liberals (as evidenced on TL) have approved of?

    I was born an FDR dem, and I use 'Trumandem' as a handle sometimes.  Adlai and Humphrey had my backing. Kennedy, whom I mourned, had superb PR, but the much-scorned Johnson did the heavy work on civil rights.  My not-too-distant neighbor Carter (one darned southerner after another) was a joke because of 'malaise' and sweaters, but his real failure was being an outsider.  Looks like it's now Clinton's turn to get downgraded.  Obama is no democrat.

    Who the h-ll would want to be a democratic president if all you get is sour grapes.  Those darn repugs make idols out of their crappy crew.  I started to say I wonder why O. ran as a democrat--but since he chose the Windy City as his base, I guess I know why.


    Bill Bashing? (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Mr Natural on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:29:45 AM EST
    ... Isn't Veganism punishment enough?

    Come on, Dadler. Clinton deserves (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by oculus on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 11:03:17 AM EST
    some credit for his comment re Obama's win in the SC primary.  

    I Don't Know About All That... (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 11:23:57 AM EST
    ... he has been a bit of a joke lately, but in my mind his good deeds far outweigh his bad.  He was great when it really counted, not error free, but I don't think I will live to see anyone better running this country.  Now, not real important, he isn't setting policy, just rambling for the cameras, doesn't really bother me.

    That being said, the solution is so GD simple, even a cave man can grasp it.  The fact that we are even having this discussion should without a doubt mean we need to stop the practice, not fine tune the particulars.

    To me, DNA proved the system is not without error, it proved human beings are faulty witnesses.  And as bad as it is to lock someone up for something they didn't do, at the very least, that error can be rectified so long as we don't kill them.  How anyone can fool themselves into thinking errors only occur in none capital cases is mind numbingly insanity.

    The complexity we have devised to ensure the process operates without error is backfiring and contributing to the very premise its devised to avoid, errors.

    When evidence that may prove innocence can't be submitted or reviewed because the proper channels and/or paperwork isn't within the guidelines, we have lost sight of justice.

    To me the Blackstone ratio should be modified for the death penatly:

    Better that a million guilty persons get life w/o parole than that one innocent get put to death.

    Ha! (none / 0) (#3)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:23:35 AM EST
    I have a blind spot for Clinton until someone like you sheds some light :)  You are right.  I did not much like living with Jimmy Carter as my President but I really do like him tons as a former President.  He's always doing something deeply beneficial for the most down trodden.  I guess Jimmy Carter refuses to believe that the market is finally pricing all of us at what we are really worth.

    Useless? (none / 0) (#6)
    by Mike Pridmore on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:31:44 AM EST
    As noted here, former President Carter certainly thinks he has done more than former President Clinton.  But I think that says more about President Carter than it does about Clinton.  Carter is without a doubt a great man.  But there is the occasional touch of pettiness, as witnessed in the comment linked to above.

    There is little doubt that Clinton is better at blowing his own horn, to use the common phrase.  But just because he has a penchant for self-promotion does not mean that he has been useless as a former President.


    Inevitable, ... (none / 0) (#9)
    by Yman on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:49:02 AM EST
    ... although I'm not sure why Carter gets credit for the Carter Center and Clinton gets none for the Clinton Global Initiative.

    Also, although Carter has become a vocal death penalty opponent, after Furman effectively struck down death penalty statutes in all the states he signed the first death penalty law to pass review by the Supreme Court.


    Thanks for that post. Gave me a good laugh (none / 0) (#10)
    by Buckeye on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:58:22 AM EST
    today.  Unfortunately, you are not just funny, but right.

    A moral and enlightened cause (none / 0) (#8)
    by KeysDan on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:44:08 AM EST
    for President Clinton would be to devote his efforts to ending the death penalty.  The appeals process in light of DNA technology advances, is but a tool to find the truth, and as such, is essentially, a no-brainer.

    Speaking of no brains, the former president may, in supporting the movement to end the death penalty, redeem himself, in part, for his egregious participation in the execution of Ricky Ray Rector.  Rector, after killing a policeman, shot himself in the head suffering major damage.  Then Governor Clinton returned mid-presidential campaign to watch Rector's execution (no wimp, like Dukakis).

    While Rector was  judged able to stand trial, there were questions about his real ability to do so. Indeed, even at his last meal he did not eat his pecan pie because he wanted to save it for later.  He liked his sweets at bedtime.

    "Watch" (none / 0) (#27)
    by me only on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 03:06:39 PM EST
    He wasn't at Cummins the night of the execution.

    Nevertheless (none / 0) (#30)
    by BobTinKY on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 03:23:41 PM EST
    a low point in Clinton's career.  Pretty despicable if you ask me.

    You are correct in that (none / 0) (#33)
    by KeysDan on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:02:38 PM EST
    then-Governor Clinton did not  literally "watch" the execution.  Perhaps, watch-over would have been a better descriptor.  Or, as Stephen Bright (Southern Center for Human Rights) wrote in the St. Louis University Law Journal: Clinton returned mid-campaign to preside over the execution.  Some have used the word, "oversee".  Actually watching the execution would not have been easy to do, for most.  According to accounts, the lethal injection did not proceed well, taking over an hour to find a vein, eventually requiring a slashing of the arm. Rector, believing the executioners were doctors coming to his aid, tried to help them with their work.

    Clinton returned and (none / 0) (#38)
    by me only on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 05:05:55 PM EST
    took a phone call from defense counsel.

    Typical DLC crap (none / 0) (#15)
    by scribe on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 12:10:56 PM EST
    Say what the base wants to hear, when out of power, and beg to be put back into power with promises to the base.

    When in power, b1tchslap the base while teling them to "be practical" and fellate the corporations and thugs.

    He hasn't changed;  most of the Clinton Global Initiative programs strike me as stuff that wouldn't get done unless some corporation or CWO type stood to make serious coin from it.  Regardless of what you think of Carter personally, I think it's fair to say he doesn't do things with a profit motive.  Can't say the same about WJC.

    And I can't exclude he's doing this to help HRC position herself as the un-Obama for future campaigning.

    Man, everytime we discuss DNA evidence (none / 0) (#22)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 01:48:45 PM EST
    I am reminded of the OJ juror who voted not guilty, and then when asked during an interview after the trial what she thought of the DNA evidence she replied with some scorn something like "DNA evidence. Puh-lease. That's just stuff they try to confuse us with." iow, DNA evidence carried absolutely no weight with her. I hope times have changed...

    That's funny (none / 0) (#37)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:29:50 PM EST
    but revealing.

    Of course OJ was not convicted to send a message to the LAPD.


    Some progress from Clinton (none / 0) (#29)
    by BobTinKY on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 03:18:50 PM EST
    this was the guy who rushed back to Ark. from the campaign trail to insure the execution of a retarded man in 1992.

    "Retarded" (5.00 / 1) (#35)
    by Yman on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:06:43 PM EST
    Rector had a brain injury after shooting himself in the head in a suicide attempt.  This was immediately after he shot and killed a police officer (in front of his mother) who had agreed to take him into custody for the murder of another man a few days earlier, an officer who knew him since childhood.

    That fact does seem to get lost in the debate (none / 0) (#36)
    by jbindc on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 04:22:09 PM EST
    Rector was not impaired before he attempted suicide.  The police officer he shot and killed was a family friend standing in Mrs. Rector's house.

    Rector shot him in the back as the officer (none / 0) (#39)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 06:58:50 PM EST
    was talking to Rector's mom.

    Rector was a criminal who (none / 0) (#40)
    by KeysDan on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 07:38:59 PM EST
    was convicted of two murders, a bystander at the initial dance hall incident and the police officer Martin, and was sentenced to death for the murder of Martin.  Rector's subsequent suicide attempt, essentially, lobotomized him destroying the frontal lobes of his brain.

    Rector's IQ at the time of his trial was reported as between 63 and 70. Retardation can be caused by or from different conditions, but the result is diminished intellectual competence as generally reflected by an IQ of less than 70.

    While too late for Rector, the Supreme Court  (Atkins v Virginia 2002--a particularly vile murder case) barred execution of the mentally disabled (a "low IQ, less than 70) as it violated the 8th amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist dissented.


    Which inspired the Clintons to put on their spurs (none / 0) (#41)
    by Rojas on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 08:36:17 PM EST
    And ride that death horse like the proudest pony in the show.

    Christopher Hitchens ... (none / 0) (#43)
    by Yman on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 08:49:07 PM EST
    ... couldn't have said it better.

    Funnier, maybe ...

    ... but not better.


    Yep ... all of which ... (none / 0) (#45)
    by Yman on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 08:54:38 PM EST
    ... I'm well aware of.

    BTW - Just to clarify (none / 0) (#48)
    by Yman on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 10:23:12 PM EST
    The Court in Atkins held that the execution of mentally retarded criminals violated the 8th Amendment - not "mentally disabled".  It is not clear that Atkins would have affected Rector's case, since Rector wouldn't have met the definition of "mentally retarded" as the Court spelled out in footnote 3.

    Did they hire (none / 0) (#42)
    by Rojas on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 08:45:37 PM EST
    that shrink from Texas to prove up future danger after that bullet scattered his brain matter around his head, or did your boy bill think he just needed killin'?

    Try that in English (none / 0) (#44)
    by Yman on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 08:52:17 PM EST
    There were actually several psychiatrists that testified at both of Rector's competency hearings.

    Jes wondering (none / 0) (#46)
    by Rojas on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 09:04:59 PM EST
    did they spot texas a little cash to have Dr. Richard Coons to predict the "future dangerousness" of Rector.

    Got it (none / 0) (#47)
    by Yman on Fri Sep 23, 2011 at 09:37:27 PM EST
    Trying to use the (lack of) credibility of one of your local psychiatrists that had nothing to do with rector's case to  somehow attack the credibility of ..... well ..

    ... something.

    About as credible as any of your other fairy tales ...


    Credible..... (none / 0) (#50)
    by Rojas on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 10:32:46 AM EST
    It's amazing what seduction can do. If Rector possessed malice of forethought that person ceased to exist when that bullet entered his brain.

    "Seduction"??? (none / 0) (#51)
    by Yman on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 11:57:05 AM EST
    BTW - It's "malice aforethought", and that was established at trial - not to mention astoundingly clear from the facts.

    If "that person ceased to exist", they should have just let him go and rewarded him for his failed attempt at suicide.


    I was giving you the benifit of doubt (none / 0) (#52)
    by Rojas on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 01:27:56 PM EST
    for your defense of the indefensible. In retrospect, perhaps you are a sadist.

    I don't need "the benefit ... (none / 0) (#53)
    by Yman on Sat Sep 24, 2011 at 02:04:11 PM EST
    ... of the doubt", Rojas, least of all from you.

    But I guess when you've got nothing, it's easier just to make up little fairy tales and try to divert to completely irrelevant subjects and people, ...

    ... not that it isn't completely transparent.