Saturday, July 10, 2010

What's New?

Innocence Commission Created in Florida
Posted: July 09, 2010

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canaday issued an Administrative Order creating a Florida Innocence Commission “to conduct a comprehensive study of the causes of wrongful conviction and of measures to prevent such convictions.” The Administrative Order creating the commission stated the basis for the investigation: "WHEREAS, the occurrence of cases in which the innocent are convicted and punished constitutes a grave injustice; and WHEREAS, the imperative of avoiding such injustice requires a comprehensive examination of the causes of wrongful convictions and an in-depth consideration of measures to prevent the conviction of the innocent." The commission will only review cases that have already been determined to be wrongful convictions. The 23-member Innocence Commission is scheduled to submit an interim report to the Court no later than June 30, 2011 and a final report and recommendations to the Court no later than June 30, 2012.

Briefs Filed in Troy Davis Case in Georgia
Posted: July 08, 2010

Briefs from both parties in the Troy Davis case were filed in the U.S. District Court in Savannah, Georgia, on July 7, 2010. The federal judge considering the possible innocence of Davis, a death row inmate from Georgia who has been granted a stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court, requested the briefs following an evidentiary hearing on June 23 reviewing new evidence that had arisen since Davis's original trial. A ruling is expected in the near future and further action by the U.S. Supreme Court may follow. The briefs may be found here: Defendant's brief and Attorney General's brief. (Posted by DPIC, July 8, 2010).

Georgia Death Penalty Defendant Lacked Representation Because of Budget Problems
Posted: July 07, 2010

Defense attorneys for Georgia capital defendant Jamie Weis have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the state from seeking the death penalty because state prosecutors hand picked the public defenders assigned to the case and because the case has languished for years without adequate representation. Prosecutors announced in August 2006 that they would seek the death penalty against Weis. By March of the next year, the state ran out of money to pay Mr. Weis’ attorneys. The prosecutors then asked the judge to appoint two overworked public defenders instead, identifying them by name. Against the wishes of the defendant, the judge granted their request, resulting in the new lawyers filing three motions to withdraw citing their lack of experience, time, or money to pay experts or investigators. Finally, after years of lost time that the attorneys could have spent working on Weis' defense, the state agreed to reinstate Weis’ original attorneys on the eve of the trial. Prosecutors had spent those years steadily building their case while the defense lost leads and witnesses went missing or died. The defense maintains that such a lack of adequate defense for so many years is unconstitutional.

COSTS: Death Penalty Cases Cost Indiana Counties Ten Times More than Life Without Parole
Posted: July 06, 2010

A recent state analysis of the costs of the death penalty in Indiana found the average cost to a county for a trial and direct appeal in a capital case was over ten times more than a life-without-parole case. The average death case cost $449,887, while the average cost of a life-without-parole case was only $42,658. The study, prepared by the Legislative Services Agency for the General Assembly, found that even while factoring the longer incarceration period for those sentenced to life without parole, the cost of the death penalty still outweighed the cost of life without parole. The study also noted that Indiana was following the national trend of declining use of the death penalty. Indiana prosecutors did not file a single new death penalty case for more than a year from August 2006 through December 2007, according to the public defender council. Between 1990 and 2000, prosecutors requested the death penalty in 153 cases from the 4,617 murders and homicides reported in the state. From those 153 cases where the death penalty was sought, 48 went to trial, 25 resulted in death sentences, and 4 actually resulted in an execution. Clark County Prosecutor Steven Stewart stated that, while he agrees with the death penalty, it does cost more than life in prison without parole.

Texas Judge to Hold Hearing on Risk of Executing the Innocent
Posted: July 02, 2010

Texas District Judge Kevin Fine scheduled a hearing in a death penalty case to consider whether there is a substantial risk that Texas's death penalty laws could result in the execution of an innocent person. The hearing, expected to last two weeks, will likely include testimony from experts around the country. Casey Kiernan, one of the attorneys for the defendant, John Green, filed a pre-trial motion regarding the issue of innocence, which led to the hearing. Kiernan said, "I think everybody in the United States would agree that the possibility exists [an innocent person has been executed]. We think there is much more than a possibility, based on all the exonerations, all the problems with the forensics." Defense attorneys are also planning to raise other issues at the hearing, including the reliability of eyewitness testimony. The hearing will begin on November 8. Judge Fine had initially granted the motion in March, finding Texas' death penalty law to be unconstitutional. However, he withdrew that decision so that more evidence from both sides could be submitted.

U.S. Supreme Court Orders Reconsideration of Georgia Death Sentence Because of Inadequate Representation
Posted: July 01, 2010

On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court returned a death penalty case to the Georgia Supreme Court to reconsider whether the failures of the defendant's lawyer probably affected the sentence he received. Demarcus Sears was sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of a woman in Cobb County. Sears' attorneys attempted to convince jurors to spare his life by saying that he came from a stable and loving family who would be devastated if he received the death penalty. However, the defense lawyers failed to conduct an adequate investigation of Sears' childhood. They neglected to show that his parents had been in a physically abusive relationship, that he was sexually abused and inappropriately disciplined. By the time Sears reached high school, he was “described as severely learning disabled and as severely behaviorally handicapped.” One expert determined he was among the "most impaired individuals in the population" as a result of significant frontal lobe brain damage. Although a lower court in Georgia found the defense attorneys conduct to be faulty, it concluded that the mitigating evidence that was not presented would not have made a difference. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the evidence "might well have helped the jury understand Sears and his horrendous acts ...." The Court granted certiorari, vacated the judgment below, and ordered Georgia to reconsider the possible prejudice to Sears from the ineffective representation rendered by his lawyers, especially in light of other Supreme Court decisions where attorneys failed to conduct a thorough investigation.

EDITORIALS: "Forget the Death Penalty"
Posted: June 30, 2010

On June 24, the Democrat Herald (Oregon) featured an editorial about Randy Lee Guzek, who was recently sentenced to death for the fourth time for murders committed in 1987. The Oregon Supreme Court overturned his three previous death sentences on various grounds. The editorial questioned whether such a death penalty process made any sense. "If the procedures are so difficult that Oregon trial courts cannot get them right in three tries, maybe there is something wrong with the procedures and the system."

Death Penalty Information Center

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