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March 30, 2006

Expansion of the federal death penalty?

As noted here yesterday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security today conducted this scheduled hearing on a bill titled the "Death Penalty Reform Act of 2006."  Though information about this bill remains sketchy, it seems that the chief goal of the bill to expand the reach and application of the federal death penalty.  The Thomas (Library of Congress) website now has the text of the "Death Penalty Reform Act" (H.R. 5040) at this link

A helpful reader pointed me to this press release on the proposed legislation.  The ACLU website also has this letter that it sent to the House subcommittee opposing H.R. 5040.  Here is how this letter begins:

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-partisan organization with hundreds of thousands of activists and members and 53 affiliates nation-wide, we write to express our concerns about H.R. 5040, the Death Penalty Reform Act of 2006 (DPRA) that will be considered during a hearing in the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee on Thursday, March 30.  The Death Penalty Reform Act would violate the Eighth Amendment by allowing for the execution of mentally retarded persons and contradict Supreme Court law by making virtually every federal crime that results in death and involves a firearm eligible for the death penalty.  We urge you to oppose this legislation because it violates several fundamental constitutional principles.

UPDATE:  The hearing and testimony from this hearing is now all linked at this official hearing page.  Perhaps the most complete testimony providing background on the pros and cons of the bill comes from the DOJ testimony from Margaret P. Griffey and the defense-oriented testimony from David Bruck.  Bruck's testimony begins with a reminder of why this is all much ado about a very small piece of the national death penalty equation:

Federal prosecutions account for a little over one percent of the prisoners currently on death row throughout the nation, and well under one percent of the executions to date.  This reflects the fact that, despite many expansions of federal jurisdiction over violent crime in recent decades, the prosecution and punishment of persons who commit murder remains overwhelmingly a state responsibility.

March 30, 2006 at 02:14 PM | Permalink

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