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June 12, 2006

ABA calls for death penalty moratorium in Alabama

As detailed in this AP article, a study team from the American Bar Association has recommended a moratorium on the death penalty in Alabama in a massive report that documents major flaws in the state's administration of capital punishment.  But, unsurprisingly, not every state official is appreciative of the ABA's insights:

The voices calling for a moratorium on executions in Alabama now include most members of a death penalty assessment team formed by the American Bar Association.  The assessment team, headed by University of Alabama law professor Daniel Filler, found several problems with the way Alabama handles capital murder cases, including inadequate legal representation and a lack of access to DNA testing.

Alabama's top prosecutor, Republican Attorney General Troy King, said the ABA is biased against the death penalty, and it put together an assessment team that reflects that bias.  "The ABA is a liberal, activist organization with an agenda they constantly push.  That's why I'm not a member of the ABA," King said Friday.

The ABA's comprehensive report, which runs over 250 pages and is available at this link, provides an extraordinary overview of the death penalty in Alabama and obviously represents an extraordinary amount of work by the members of the ABA assessment team.  Anyone uniquely concerned about the death penalty in Alabama should find the time to read this report.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but have same reaction to this Alabama report that I had to a similar ABA report issued in January identifying problems with Georgia's death penalty practices.  As I explained in this post, I am always troubled by how much time and attention is given to death penalty processes and defendants, especially since (1) everyone on death row has been convicted and sentenced to death for murder, and (2) the alternative to execution is typically life in prison.

As I explained before, I see far greater injustices in our criminal justice system than what transpires in the (over-analyzed) death penalty system.  There are at least 132,000 persons in the US serving life imprisonment, some for petty crimes because of a personal history as a small-time thief or drug dealer.  And, of the more than 2,000,000 persons in jail or prison, nearly half are serving time for non-violent offenses.  In my view, these defendants merit the time and attention of groups like the ABA more so than a relatively small group of murderers (most of whom are likely to die in prison as if they had received a life term even though sentenced to death).

UPDATE:  I now see that Dan Filler has this post about his work on the ABA report here at Concurring Opinions.  In light of my comments about, these insights from Dan seem especially notable:

One of the most troubling things that surfaced in our work was the fact that the state's capital system has eluded serious study for so long.  Unlike some other states, few individuals or organizations have conducted extensive research on it. The state engages in fairly limited data collection as well.  As a consequence, we were somewhat limited in our ability to provide a complete snapshot of the system. 

In many respects. this report is best designed to start - rather than end - serious scrutiny of capital punishment in Alabama.

June 12, 2006 at 08:04 AM | Permalink

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"...a study team from the American Bar Association has recommended a moratorium on the death penalty in Alabama..."

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Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jun 12, 2006 9:45:37 AM

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