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December 18, 2009

DPIC releases year-end report on the death penalty in 2009

As detailed in this press release, the Death Penalty Information Center has just released its latest end-of-year report on death penalty developments. Here is how the press release describes the highlights of this new report, which is titled “The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report” and is available at this link:

The country is expected to finish 2009 with the fewest death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to a report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center.  Eleven states considered abolishing the death penalty this year, a significant increase in legislative activity from previous years, as the high costs and lack of measurable benefits associated with this punishment troubled lawmakers.

Major papers reporting on this report include:

  • From the New York Times here, "Death Sentences Dropped, but Executions Rose in ’09"
  • From the Washington Post here, "Number of death sentences falls to a historic low"

December 18, 2009 at 07:26 AM | Permalink


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Here's a quote from the Post article:

"That is particularly true when the cases come from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which covers the West and is often criticized as overly deferential to defendants, or the 5th and 11th circuits, which cover most of the South and receive the opposite criticism."

What a hack this Robert Barnes is. First of all, he neglects to mention the Sixth Circuit--which given its record on capital habeas cases is at least as noteworthy as the 11 Circuit's, and which also ate a PC summary reversal on a death case recently. Second, there is total false equivalence here. The Ninth Circuit's record is a quantum leap more remarkable than that of the Fifth and the Eleventh.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 19, 2009 8:51:32 AM

1. How nice it must be, when you're an abolitionist organization, to have your tendentious "year end report" picked up by the press and blandly recounted as a "news story." As the Post article mentions decently far down the page, the DPIC is an anti-DP group. What the article fails to mention is that this "report" is an abolitionist PR piece with an occasional bit of genuine information thrown in so it can be trotted out as a "report."

2. After years of trumpeting the decline in the number of executions as easily the most important development in the field, we now find that an INCREASE in the number of executions is secondary stuff.

3. Cost may be a consideration in some jurisdictions, but, contrary to what you might glean from the article, it is not here in Virginia. The reason for that is that we don't tolerate the years of dilatroy appeals other states do; the average interval between sentencing and execution is slightly more than half the national average. (Cost is largely a function of how many years litigation is allowed to go on).

Now lest I hear the rote charge that a relatively fast moving process (still over seven years of litigtion, though) risks "executing the innocent," I might point out that no abolitionist organization so much as CLAIMS that Virginia has executed an innocent person since Gregg v. Georgia instituted the modern era of capital punishment.

There was one such a claim in the past, in the case of Roger Keith Coleman, made together with the usual frothing at the mouth insistence that Coleman's conviction was politically rigged and the state was hiding from a DNA test that would prove innocence.

Only the state wasn't hiding, provided the test, and thereupon proved to a scientific certainty that Coleman was in fact just as guilty as the jury had found.

Since then, the Coleman innocence hoax has been flushed down the memory hole. This has not prevented the abolitionist side from re-cycling it with a different name (Willingham), but, otherwise, with the same cast of evil characters, i.e., the conniving prosecutor, brain-dead defense lawyer, moronic jurors, faked evidence, etc.

And when the Willingham hoax gets to be as exposed as the Coleman hoax was (Willingham's own lawyer has now admitted he was guilty), there won't be a moment's pause before abolitionist word processor is at it again -- different defendant, but same outraged claim, same lack of proof they can sell in court, and same cast of villians.

It would be better, or at least more honest, if these fringe DP opponents would forget about these "innocence" claims and say what they really think: That the real reason the United States shouldn't use the DP is that America stinks. It's a racist, classist, militarist behemoth, the cat's paw of Satan himself, and thus lacks the moral authority to execute ANYONE, no matter how grotesque the crime or how indisputable the evidence of guilt.

Many abolitionists deny thinking that (although some make it plain that that's exactly what they think). But the public sees through it, and, in part for that reason, believes by 2-1, as it has for years, that we should keep capital punishment.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2009 11:37:14 AM

Bill - Those who are capable and respectful of Faith will prefer the message of those who have the authority to represent our moral heritage and future. The Washington Post carries one such message: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/12/abolishing_the_death_penalty.html (click on my name)
extract -
"People of faith can do no less than to reassert the principle that capital punishment is morally wrong, perpetuating the cycle of violence when it kills people who kill. As noted in the Lighting the Torch of Conscience statement 20 years ago:

". . . Each human is created in the image of God, and thus we believe in the inherent worth of human life and the inalienable dignity of the human estate. The value of human life is not contingent on the moral rectitude of human beings or human institutions." "

Posted by: peter | Dec 20, 2009 3:16:43 AM

Mr. Otis,

"Since DNA entered the courtroom in 1989, 248 criminal convictions have been overturned, 17 of which involved inmates on death row, according to the Innocence Project of Florida."

1. Do you disupte these figures? If so, what are your figures--and please give citations.

2. If you accept the figures, are you willing to extrapolate the numbers to cases that do not involve DNA as the above cases all do. If not, why not?

3. If you do accept the some kind of extraploation is legitmate, what percentage of those convicted in Virginia are innocnet?

4. Do you accept that any convicted person in Virginia is actually innocnet? Or or you like the President of Iran who says there are no homosexuals in that country.

5. If there are innocnet person in Virigia prisons, what are the prosecuotors in that state doing to rectify the injustices?

Posted by: anon | Dec 20, 2009 10:09:53 PM

Some really thought provoking comments here. The same debate is raging on down here in Australia. We just had a gentleman released after 6 years imprisonment after his rape conviction was overturned. He was found guilty due to DNA 'evidence' that was later (6 years later) found not to belong to him. How does this happen? Where's the checks and balances? The debate about whether we should or shouldn't use DNA as evidence is a really hot topic right now.

Posted by: Black Wedge Boots | Dec 21, 2009 2:50:52 PM

peter --

First, I do not bow to the persons you characterize as "those who have the authority to represent our moral heritage and future." Just who, other than themselves, gave them that so-called authority? A bunch of left-wing religious zealots have no authority whatever over me, and, so far as the evidence shows, over anything approaching a majority of the electorate.

The shear arrogance of conferring such "authority" on one's self is astounding. If some TV evangelist did such a thing, you'd be the first one to laugh him off stage.

I looked up the article you cited, although I did not click on your name, since I don't know your name. I did, however, note the following paragraph:

"A recent Gallup Poll confirms that support for the death penalty is significantly lower than its peak support in the early 1990s. Three in five Americans believe an innocent person has been executed within the last five years, and death sentences are at a low for the modern era."

The main thing that struck me about that paragraph is how thoroughly dishonest it is. This would be noteworthy in any event, but is particularly noteworthy when written by people claiming the mantle of "moral authority." Moral authority my foot.

To be specific: While it is true that support for the DP is below its peak, this obscures the real truth.

First, it would be below its peak AT ANY TIME AT ALL other than the day of its peak; the statement is a tautology masquerading as information.

Second, support for the DP is in fact overwhelming. Every poll out there finds support at roughly 2-1. According to Gallup, half the people think executions aren't being carried out enough. As Gallup has also found, the degree of support for the DP is higher than for any similarly contentious issue in American life.

Third, the fact that three in five Americans believe an innocent person has been executed in the last five years -- and yet they STILL massively support the DP -- is proof not of eroding confidence in the DP but of how strong the support actually is.

Fourth, whether death sentences are at a low for the "modern era" depends, of course, on how one defines "modern era" -- something the authors conveniently omit.

If one defines it as, say, the last 30 years or thereabouts, the statement is simply false. And if you look at the number of actual executions, rather than sentences, you'll see that the figure is significantly UP this year from either of the last two.

The deceit oozing from this single paragraph is so astonishing as to make the authors' claim of "moral leadership" not merely arrogant but absurd.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 21, 2009 6:42:10 PM

anon --

I have learned better than to respond to those who decline to respond to me. Your comment is ostensibly in reaction to my note of Dec 19, 2009 11:37:14 AM, but you don't so much as acknowledge it, much less rebut a single assertion it makes.

This is not a one-way street, and I am not going to treat it as such.

Nonetheless, as a gesture, I will answer two of your questions, and then pose one for you to answer. Where it goes from there will depend on whether you are being direct and forthcoming and otherwise keeping up your end.

"Since DNA entered the courtroom in 1989, 248 criminal convictions have been overturned, 17 of which involved inmates on death row, according to the Innocence Project of Florida."

"1. Do you disupte these figures? If so, what are your figures--and please give citations.

"2. If you accept the figures, are you willing to extrapolate the numbers to cases that do not involve DNA as the above cases all do. If not, why not?"

Since I don't know the specifics of the 248 cases (assuming that figure to be correct), I am in no position to either accept or reject that figure. I do know, as do you, that the Innocence Project is not neutral on this issue, and its figures must be evaluated in that light (as must the figures provided by any organization with a pre-determined viewpoint).

Assmuing arguendo that the figure is correct, it is astonishingly small. I don't know how many criminal convictions there have been in Florida in the 20 years since 1989, but 248 overturnings has to be a vanishingly small percentage. I would be amazed if it were one-tenth of one percent. A success rate like that would make the Florida criminal justice the most successful enterprise in history, a subject for celebration rather than complaint.

I am not willing to extrapolte cases of innocence, any more than you would be willing to extrapolate cases of guilt. I was a prosecutor for a long time, and not once did I ask a court to base its decision on extrapolation. The reason is simple: Cases should be decided on the basis of evidence. If the last hundred defendants you handled were all guilty, that tells you ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about whether today's defendant is also guilty. That can only be decided on the basis of the evidence specific to his case.

This business about extrapolation is a smokesceen, designed to obscure the fact abolitionists can't get around: Since the DP was re-instated more than 30 years and 1100 executions ago, the abolitionist movement has not been able to prove to any neutral authority, much less to a court, that a single innocent person has been executed. See Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163 (2006) (Scalia, J., concurring). This has not kept it from loudly and aggressively fronting so-called cases of innocence, most notably that of Roger Keith Coleman. But the Coleman innocence campaign was a fraud from the get-go, as the DNA evidence you so value proved.

By extrapolation, sure, Coleman was innocent. But by actual evidence, he was guilty as hell. "Extrapolation" turns out to be a big word for "guessing." I didn't guess in court and I don't here either. Still less do I guess on the basis of what is said by an organization with an axe to grind.

Now here is my question to you. It will be short: What is the evidence, not already rejected by a unanimous jury, that the Beltway sniper didn't deserve what he got?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 21, 2009 7:32:42 PM

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