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August 7, 2005

Justice Stevens speaks out against death penalty

As detailed in this report from the AP, Justice John Paul Stevens gave a speech at the ABA's annual meeting on Saturday night that was highly critical of the death penalty:

Recent exonerations of death row inmates through scientific evidence are significant, he told the American Bar Association, "not only because of its relevance to the debate about the wisdom of continuing to administer capital punishment, but also because it indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice."

Other Supreme Court justices, including Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have also spoken out about concerns that defendants in murder cases are not adequately represented at trial.  But Stevens, 85, made a much harsher and sweeping condemnation.  He said the jury selection process and the fact that many trial judges are elected also work against accused murderers.  He also said that jurors might be improperly swayed by victim-impact statements.

Additional coverage of Justice Stevens' speech, in which he also spoke of Justice O'Connor's departure from the High Court, is available from this Chicago Sun-Times article.

I will post a copy or link with the full text of Justice Stevens' speech as soon as I can get it.  Eventually, the speech should appear on this page on the Supreme Court's website (which is where you can still find this potent speech about the need for sentencing reforms that Justice Anthony Kennedy made at the ABA's annual meeting two years ago).

UPDATE:  TalkLeft, discussing Justice Stevens' speech in this post, spotlights the importance of discussing death penalty issues during the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts next month.  For more on Judge Roberts' possible impact on the Supreme Court's capital jurisprudence, see this post and the links therein.

August 7, 2005 at 10:28 AM | Permalink

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