Monday, July 27, 2009

Senator Kennedy Raises Concerns About Expansion of Federal Death Penalty

In response to an amendment to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act that would add the death penalty as a punishment for certain offenses under the Act, Senator Edward Kennedy (MA) entered a statement into the Congressional Record highlighting some of the risks of the death penalty. An excerpt of his statement appears below:

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, Senator SESSIONS has introduced an amendment that would create two new death penalty eligible offenses for crimes under the Matthew Shepard Act. I stand firmly in opposition to any new legislation that would radically expand the use of the death penalty, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to oppose the Sessions amendment because it adds another new death penalty to the Federal Criminal Code. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the 1970s, the Death Penalty Information Center has reported that 135 people have been released from death row in the United States because of innocence—approximately one exoneration for every nine executions.

Some have attempted to argue that the large number of death row exonerations demonstrates that the system is working. Yet in many cases, fatal mistakes were avoided only because of discoveries made by students or journalists, not the courts.
In the last 6 months, there have already been five exonerations in death penalty cases in four different States. Ronald Kitchen was freed from prison in Illinois after the State dismissed all charges against him on July 7. He had spent 13 years on death row and a total of 21 years in prison. Herman Lindsey was freed from Florida’s death row on July 9 after the State supreme court unanimously ruled for his acquittal from a 2006 conviction. As the court said: [T]he State failed to produce any evidence in this case placing Lindsey at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder. . . . Indeed, we find that the evidence here is equally consistent with a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. There have also been three other exonerations of death row prisoners, including Nathson Fields in Illinois, Paul
House in Tennessee, and Daniel Moore in Alabama. This high number of exonerations has
led many observers, both liberal and conservative, to express concern about the fairness of the death penalty’s administration.

As former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has stated ‘‘if statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed.’’

How can we continue to expand a system that likely leads to the execution of innocent defendants? The U.S. Government should not be in the business of taking the lives of innocent Americans. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg once said that
the deliberate institutionalized taking of human life by the state is the greatest
degradation of the human personality imaginable. We must not expand this flawed system by accepting Senator SESSIONS’ broad amendment.

(Congressional Record, Senate, at S7683-84, July 20, 2009) (statement of Senator Kennedy). See Innocence and Recent Legislation.

Article taken from the DPIC

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