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May 15, 2011

Keen coverage of capital realities, including deals to avoid death, in Ohio

My own Columbus Dispatch today had these two notable pieces on the operation of the Buckeye death penalty:

Here is an excerpt from the first of these pieces:

The death penalty in Ohio is more than just a form of punishment -- it's a tool prosecutors rely on to get information, avoid lengthy and costly trials and to provide quick justice to families in pain.  In contrast, pursuing a death-penalty case can mean decades before an execution date even is set....

Brent Yager, prosecutor in Marion County, said he believes he has a duty to seek the death penalty if the crime fits the requirements.  But circumstances can change, he conceded.  Sometimes, the threat of death is indeed a bargaining chip, a means to a conviction.  Other times, more information simply comes to light. "As you get closer to trial, a lot can happen," he said.  "You learn more about the case, you learn more about the defendant and, probably most importantly, you get to know the victim's family and you learn their wishes."

Sometimes, cost is a factor for poor, rural counties.  Yager said he understands that but wishes it wasn't so.  "Cost should carry the least amount of weight when choosing whether to seek a death sentence," he said.  "And, in my mind, the wishes of the family should be given the most."

Citing the cost and racial imbalance, two Democratic state lawmakers want to abolish the death penalty in Ohio. Reps. Ted Celeste, of Grandview Heights, and Nickie Antonio, of Lakewood in the Cleveland area, have introduced the legislation.  It likely is going nowhere in the Republican-dominated House.  Still, prosecutors worry about losing the option...

Defense attorneys counter that prosecutorial leverage is no justification for the death penalty.  "If we look at the death penalty as something there to extract guilty pleas more readily, I think that's a hell of a bad reason to have the death penalty," said Marc Triplett.

May 15, 2011 at 09:38 PM | Permalink

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'Defense attorneys counter that prosecutorial leverage is no justification for the death penalty. "If we look at the death penalty as something there to extract guilty pleas more readily, I think that's a hell of a bad reason to have the death penalty," said Marc Triplett.'

A man who defends capital murderers doesn't think the government should use the death penalty as leverage to extract pleas to get LWOP? This is a revelation.

Posted by: MikeinCT | May 16, 2011 12:37:05 AM

Mike, I think it is an interesting issue--ultimately, I think that you can't worry about plea deals when passing legislation, so you can't repeal DP because a prosecutor here and there will unfairly use it as leverage. I doubt, to be honest, that empirically there are too many instances where a prosecutor is simply overcharging a weak case to put the DP on the table for leverage in plea negotiations. I think what avoiding the DP does, as a practical matter, is gives defense attorneys something that they can hang their hats on--i.e., a feeling that they saved their client's life (remember, this is the crowd that makes that annoying ejaculation : "there's a life at stake")--so these guys can sell LWOP to the client.

Posted by: federalist | May 16, 2011 9:13:32 AM

Are coerced plea agreements sending innocent people to prison for life? For lower-level offenses, I can imagine cases where it is in the defendant’s interest to enter a tactical guilty plea when they are actually innocent. But when the plea carries a guarantee of life in prison, it’s hard to imagine very many innocent people who would take the deal.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 16, 2011 1:28:11 PM

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