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December 21, 2008

Reviewing the lengthy appeals process for capital cases

New Hampshire sentenced a killer to death this week for the first time in a very long time.  As this effective local article highlights, the new death sentence means that folks in the Granite state will now get a first-hand view of the lenthy appeals process in capital cases.  The article is headlined, "Appeals likely for 15 years: Legal safeguards myriad; capital cases rare in N.H," and here is how it starts:

Appeals in Michael Addison's capital murder case are likely to span at least 15 years if he pursues them all, death penalty experts say. That's because there are myriad constitutional protections designed to prevent unjust executions - and because the New Hampshire judiciary is inexperienced with death penalty law.

Addison, 28, who was sentenced to death Thursday for shooting and killing Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs, is the first New Hampshire man to receive a death sentence since 1959, before the U.S. Supreme Court rewrote the rules on death penalty law and before New Hampshire crafted its own law that made the murder of a police officer punishable by death.

The Addison case represents unexplored territory. "There is as much substantive rust on the pipes as possible," said Frank Zimring, a University of California-Berkeley law professor and author of The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment. Zimring said that the case will present many new issues for the New Hampshire Supreme Court, will be pursued by lawyers without experience in death penalty litigation and will take place in a region that has demonstrated ambivalence about capital punishment.

"My impression is that this case could well spend the next 15 or 20 years in the court system," said Stephen Bright, senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights and a lecturer on death penalty law at Yale Law School. "It could very well be reversed."

Since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to reintroduce the death penalty in 1976, only four executions have taken place in the Northeast and only one has occurred in New England.  In 2005, Connecticut executed Michael Ross, an admitted serial killer who had raped and murdered eight women and ultimately gave up on his appeals after 18 years on death row.  New Hampshire and Connecticut are the only New England states with the death penalty on the books.

"There are an awful lot of layers, and all of this is going to be brand new to New Hampshire, and all of it is going to be in an environment that is enormously ambivalent about capital punishment," Zimring said.

December 21, 2008 at 09:58 AM | Permalink


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Terrific way to write a balanced article on the death penalty. Interview Zimring, Bright, Steiker, and Dieter and print whatever they say.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 22, 2008 11:47:49 AM

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