Monday, November 18, 2013
"The Jurisprudence of Death and Youth: Now the Twain Should Meet"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Janet Hoeffel now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The Supreme Court recently married its "death is different" death penalty jurisprudence and its burgeoning "children are different too" jurisprudence to apply Eighth Amendment death penalty jurisprudence to juvenile non-death sentences in Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama. This Article argues that the (practically non-existent) jurisprudence of juvenile transfer should travel further down this comparative road paved by the Court and insist that juvenile transfer proceedings be subject to the same scrutiny exercised over capital punishment proceedings. While Eighth Amendment process need not be literally incorporated into juvenile transfer proceedings, it should be adopted through the Due Process Clause.
The parallels between the death penalty and juvenile transfer are striking. Both involve a decision to expose a person to the most severe set of penalties available to the relevant justice system: a death sentence for adults in adult court; a transfer to adult court for youth in juvenile court. The decision to send an adult to his death is a decision to end his life; the decision to send a juvenile to adult court is a decision to end his childhood. Both decisions signify a life not worth saving, and therefore, both decisions are to apply to the "worst of the worst." As a result of the finality and seriousness of their consequences, both processes should require the strictest of procedures for reliable imposition of those consequences.
While the Court’s jurisprudence on procedures for imposing death is not a model, the Court has, at least, worked both to narrow who is subject to the death penalty and to reduce the potential for arbitrary and capricious imposition of death through procedures for guided discretion. The lessons learned in that context can be applied to improve juvenile transfer procedures that allow transfer of a child to adult court based on the unfettered and arbitrary discretion of a judge or, worse, a prosecutor. Furthermore, death penalty jurisprudence applied in capital cases, and as applied in Graham and Miller, leads to the conclusion that juvenile transfer laws allowing automatic transfer of a child to adult court, without an individualized consideration, violates due process.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
"Correcting a Fatal Lottery: a Proposal to Apply the Civil Discrimination Standards to the Death Penalty"
The title of this post is the title of this notable student note by Joseph Thomas now available for download via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Claims of discrimination in death penalty proceeding receive disparate treatment compared to virtually every other type of discrimination: employment, housing, jury venire, reverse-racial discrimination, racial profiling by police, racial profiling by private security, racial gerrymandering, qualified immunity by a state prison guard, qualified immunity by city officials and police, felon disenfranchisement laws. They each use the same process when there is no direct evidence of discrimination -- a burden shifting framework to help present the evidence in an organized manner with a standard of the preponderance of the evidence that must be demonstrated to prove discrimination took place. Dissimilarly, death penalty proceedings are the exception to the rule -- all of the evidence is presented in one stage, without any organization, and the heightened standard of exceptionally clear proof must be demonstrated to prove discrimination took place.
With the use of disparate standards to adjudicate the exact same thing -- claims of discrimination without direct evidence -- makes the process used in the death penalty unconstitutional because with life and liberty at stake, defendants in the death penalty should be afforded more protections, not less. Alternatively, I propose my own standard for handling discrimination cases in the death penalty, based off of the civil standards.
Friday, November 15, 2013
"One death row inmate supporting another in organ-donation fight"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable NBC News report in the wake of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's surprising decision to postpone the execution of child-killer Ronald Phillips to explore if he can donate his organs prior to (or during?) his execution (as first reported here). Here are the details:
An Ohio convict's quest to donate his organs when he's executed is getting support from an Oregon death row prisoner who made a similar bid two years ago. Christian Longo, who was sentenced to die for murdering his wife and three small kids in 2001, told NBC News in an email that he reached out to Ronald Phillips, whose execution was just postponed so his organ-donation offer can be studied.
The "contact was rejected," Longo said. But he's still lobbying for Phillips to be given the chance to give away his organs at death — a proposal that experts say is an ethical and logistical minefield. “With a little bit of careful planning and coordination, lives can be saved from someone who has to die – up to eight lives with organs, and the enhancement of dozens more lives with tissues and tendons,” Longo wrote.
“There is no need to be in a rush to execute Mr. Phillips, who will die regardless. Not when there are so many innocently waiting on transplant lists for healthy donors who may die otherwise. To deny this is a perpetuated tragedy,” Longo said.
Longo's donation offer has been repeatedly turned down by Oregon authorities, and all executions are on hold anyway after Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium last year....
Medical ethicists say allowing such donations could give juries and judges an incentive to impose the death penalty and that prisoners could be coerced into giving away their organs. Organs are usually removed from people who are brain dead but whose bodies are otherwise functioning, and some experts say it would be impossible to replicate that scenario during an execution.
"The only options for executing someone to obtain vital organs is to either shoot them in the head or chop their head off and have a team of doctors ready to step in immediately," said Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. Theoretically, he said, the method of execution could be the removal of the organs under anesthesia. "The problem is no doctor is going to do it," he said. "It violates all medical ethics and now you're making the doctor the executioner."
Longo — who has a website and a Facebook page for his campaign, Gifts of Anatomical Value from Everyone — is also pushing states to allow prisoners who are not condemned to donate non-vital organs, like a single kidney. He helped Utah inmates push for a new Utah law, passed in April, that allows them to register as organ donors.
Recent related posts:
- "Kasich postpones execution of inmate who wants to donate organs"
- Some early reactions to Gov. Kasich's surprise decision delay execution to explore organ donation
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Some early reactions to Gov. Kasich's surprise decision delay execution to explore organ donation
Ohio Gov. John Kasich's decision to postponed today's scheduled execution of child-killer Ronald Phillips in order to determine if he can donate his organs prior to (or during?) his execution (reported here), has already, not surprisingly, generated considerable attention and has prompted a number of follow-up questions. Here is some of the early buzzing and queries drawn from today's media headlines:
From the AP here, "Ohio Child Killer's Organ Donation Wish Perplexes"
From NBC News here, "Death-row organ donations pose practical, ethical hurdles"
From Medical Daily here, "Ohio Execution Stayed Over Organ Donation: Is Ronald Philips Dodging Execution Or Seeking A Last Good Deed?"
From the Columbus Dispatch here, "Who'd pay to transplant organs from condemned killer?"
My own questions include whether (or really when) all the other condemned persons on on Ohio's death row will also offer to donate their organs if (and perhaps only when) their other legal appeal fail and they are only days from a scheduled execution.
Recent related post:
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
"Kasich postpones execution of inmate who wants to donate organs"
The title of this post is the headline of this breaking news story reporting some surprising news coming from Ohio this afternoon. Here are details:
Wowsa. I have to catch my breath and think about this a lot before I am sure how to react. While I do so, I look forward to hearing reactions from both the pro and anti death penalty crowd in the comments.
In an unprecedented move, Gov. John Kasich has postponed the execution of Akron child-killer Ronald Phillips scheduled for Thursday to determine if his organs can be harvested. It has been rescheduled for July 2, 2014.
In a statement released this afternoon, Kasich halted Phillips’ execution “so that medical experts can assess whether or not Phillips’ non-vital organs or tissues can be donated to his mother or possibly others.”
“Ronald Phillips committed a heinous crime for which he will face the death penalty. I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues then we should allow for that to happen,” Kasich said.
Phillips, 40, was sentenced to die for the 1993 beating, rape and murder of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, the daughter of his girlfriend at the time. The governor said if Phillips “is found to be a viable donor to his mother or possibly others awaiting transplants of non-vital organs, such as kidneys, the procedures would be performed and then he would be returned to Death Row to await his new execution date.”
Phillips asked earlier this week if he could donate his organs to his mother or others, but the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction rejected his request.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Reviewing the continuing challenges for states seeking to continue with lethal injectionThis New York Times piece, headlined "Executions Stall as States Seek Different Drugs," reports on the latest mechanical challenges for those states seeking to keep their machineries of death running despite new difficulties and old litigation surrounding lethal injection drugs and protocols. Here are excerpts:
Florida ran out of its primary lethal-injection drug last month and relied on a new drug that no state had ever used for an execution. At Ohio’s next scheduled execution, the state is planning to use a two-drug combination for the first time. Last month in Texas, Michael Yowell became that state’s first inmate executed using a drug made by a lightly regulated pharmacy that usually produces customized medications for individual patients.
The decision by manufacturers to cut off supplies of drugs, some of which had been widely used in executions for decades, has left many of the nation’s 32 death penalty states scrambling to come up with new drugs and protocols. Some states have already changed their laws to keep the names of lethal-drug suppliers private as a way to encourage them to provide drugs.
The uncertainty is leading to delays in executions because of legal challenges, raising concerns that condemned inmates are being inadequately anesthetized before being executed and leading the often-macabre process of state-sanctioned executions into a continually shifting legal, bureaucratic and procedural terrain....
“We have seen more changes in lethal injection protocols in the last five years than we have seen in the last three decades,” said Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and a death penalty expert. “These states are just scrambling for drugs, and they’re changing their protocols rapidly and carelessly.”
All 32 states with legalized executions use lethal injection as their primary option for executions. Of the more than 250 executions since 2008, all but five were done with lethal injections.
Facing increasing pressure and scrutiny from death penalty opponents, manufacturers of several drugs used in lethal injections — including sodium thiopental and pentobarbital — over the past few years have ceased production of the drugs or required that they not be used in executions. Looking for alternatives, state prison systems have been more eager to try new drugs, buy drugs from new sources, keep the identities of their drug suppliers secret and even swap drugs among states.
A week before the execution of a convicted murderer, Arturo Diaz, in September, Texas prison officials received two packages of pentobarbital from the Virginia Department of Corrections, at no charge; the state with the country’s second-busiest death chamber acting as ad-hoc pharmacy to the state with the busiest.
Several states have turned to compounding pharmacies, which are largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration and overseen primarily by the states. They have traditionally made specialized drugs, for instance, turning a medication into a cream or gel if a patient has trouble swallowing pills.
In Missouri, the availability of drugs and litigation have slowed the pace of executions. There have been two since 2009. “We are going to continue to be affected by these pharmaceutical company decisions time and again, unless the death penalty states can find a pharmaceutical product that has some supply stability around it,” said Chris Koster, the attorney general in Missouri, which dropped plans to use the anesthetic propofol after the European Union threatened to limit exports of the drug if it was used in an execution.
The drug shortages and legal wrangling have led some officials to discuss older methods of execution. In July, Mr. Koster suggested that the state might want to bring back the gas chamber. Dustin McDaniel, the attorney general in Arkansas, which has struggled with its lethal-injection protocol, told lawmakers the state’s fallback method of execution was the electric chair. Mr. Koster and Mr. McDaniel said they were not advocating the use of the gas chamber or the electric chair, but were talking about the possible legal alternatives to an increasingly problematic method for states.
“No state has had any success with getting their hands on the cocktail that has heretofore been relied upon,” Mr. McDaniel said. He said that lawyers for the state are trying to navigate the appeals process in death penalty cases while knowing that “if the legal hurdles were magically to go away, we are in no position to carry out an execution in this state.”
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Unanimous Supreme Court of New Hampshire upholds state's first modern capital conviction (with proportionality review to follow)As reported in this AP piece, "New Hampshire's top court upheld the sentence of the state's only death row inmate, clearing the way for a convicted cop killer to become the first person executed in New Hampshire since 1939." Here are more of the basics:
Michael Addison, 33, was convicted of gunning down Michael Briggs in 2006 as the 35-year-old Manchester police officer was attempting to arrest him on a string of armed robbery charges. The high court's unanimous ruling came nearly a year after it heard unprecedented daylong arguments in the first death penalty appeal to come before it in 50 years....
Of all 22 issues raised by Addison's lawyers on appeal, the justices concluded, "We find no reversible error."
The Supreme Court will next schedule arguments on its fairness review — weighing Addison's sentence against those meted out in 49 cases around the country between 2000 and 2009 in which a police officer was shot in the line of duty.
Addison's lawyers objected to the scope of the comparison, saying it ignores the only other New Hampshire capital case in recent history. That case involved a wealthy white man — John Brooks — who plotted and paid for the killing of a handyman he thought had stolen from him. Brooks was spared a death sentence in 2008 — the same year Addison was sentenced to die....
Attorney General Joseph Foster said the magnitude of the court's 243-page ruling is appropriate given the magnitude of the loss suffered by the Briggs' family. He did not comment on the ruling itself, noting that aspects of the case remain pending.
Briggs was 15 minutes from the end of his shift on Oct. 16, 2006, when he and his partner — both on bicycle patrol — confronted Addison in a dark alley. Jurors found that Addison shot Briggs in the head at close range to avoid arrest. Addison was later convicted of going on a violent rampage in the days before Briggs' death, including two armed robberies and a drive-by shooting....
The last person executed in New Hampshire was Howard Long, an Alton shopkeeper who molested and beat a 10-year-old boy to death. He was hanged — still a viable form of execution in New Hampshire if lethal injection is not possible.
As the AP piece revelas, the massive ruling in NH v. Addison (available here) does not conclusively affirm the defendant's death sentence. Here is why, as the NH Supreme Court explains in the introduction to its lengthy opinion:
With respect to the issues raised by the defendant on appeal, we find no reversible error. Accordingly, we affirm the defendant’s conviction for capital murder. Furthermore, we conclude that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, and that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s findings of aggravating circumstances. We note that our review of the defendant’s sentence is not yet complete. Only after additional briefing and oral argument on comparative proportionality under RSA 630:5, XI(c) will we conclude our review of the defendant’s sentence of death, at which time we will issue a further opinion.
Saturday, November 02, 2013
"Bring Back the Guillotine"The title of this post is the headline of this new Slate commentary by John Kruzel. Here are excerpts:
A nationwide shortage of a key ingredient used in lethal injections has led some states to experiment with new, untested drug cocktails for executing death row inmates. The practice has raised moral and constitutional questions, and unleashed a wave of litigation. At this point, as a society, we should be asking whether we can stand by and watch as this barbaric practice continues. Are these iffy drug combinations really any better than the guillotine?
Bringing back the guillotine may sound crazy, but it’s certainly better than the current alternative. It’s better for prisoners because quickly severing the head is believed to be one of the quickest, least painful ways to die. And it’s better for organ recipients because the bodies of guillotined prisoners could be more quickly harvested for viable parts, unlike organs that may become unusable after lethal injection due to hypoxemia.
To be clear, I find capital punishment abhorrent in theory and practice. Even if you believe the death penalty is morally acceptable, evidence of wrongful executions and the large number of inmates having been condemned to death before being exonerated shows its undeniable failings. But until the Supreme Court overturns precedents saying that state-sanctioned executions are not cruel and unusual punishment, shouldn’t we strive to make executions the most humane that they can possibly be? Lethal injection — the current method of execution of the federal government and the 32 states with the death penalty — and the guillotine are both evils, but the guillotine is the lesser evil of the two....
One familiar position put forth by advocates of lethal injection is that the three-drug cocktail is far less offensive than the guillotine — to witnesses. Some state laws grant victims’ families the right to view executions. Would bringing back the guillotine fail to consider the feelings of those who would have to watch someone get his head severed?
In short, no. As Michael Lawrence Goodwin argues, there are two main reasons why victims’ families watch executions: out of a desire to represent a murdered family member at what they consider the ultimate stage of criminal justice, and because of a need for closure. A guillotine execution would not devalue someone’s symbolic presence, and it may actually better facilitate closure for certain witnesses....
Those who would be up for watching a state-sanctioned beheading should heed the warning of Albert Camus. The author and philosopher once told a biographer the story of his father’s experience witnessing the guillotine in action: “He got up in the dark to go to the place of execution at the other end of town amid a great crowd of people. What he saw that morning he never told anyone. My mother relates merely that he came rushing home, his face distorted, refused to talk, lay down for a moment on the bed, and suddenly began to vomit.”
As Camus made clear, capital punishment is always a barbaric practice. If we’re going to continue to allow it in the United States, maybe it makes sense to be confronted by how gruesome it really is.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Latest Gallup poll indicated slight decrease in (still strong) support for death penaltyAs reported in this new Gallup page, which is headlined "U.S. Death Penalty Support Lowest in More Than 40 Years: Sixty percent of Americans favor death penalty for convicted murderers," new polling data provides an array of mixed messages concerning public opinion regarding the death penalty. Here are the basic details of the latest polling data:
Sixty percent of Americans say they favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, the lowest level of support Gallup has measured since November 1972, when 57% were in favor. Death penalty support peaked at 80% in 1994, but it has gradually declined since then.
Gallup first asked Americans their views on the death penalty using this question in 1936, and has updated it periodically since then, including annual updates since 1999.
Americans have typically favored the death penalty; in fact, support has exceeded opposition in all but one survey, conducted in May 1966, during an era marked by philosophical and legal challenges to the death penalty from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. Americans' support for the death penalty waned during that time. The culmination of that era was the Supreme Court's 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision, which invalidated all state death penalty statutes on technical grounds but stopped short of declaring the practice itself unconstitutional. Four years later, the court ruled that several newly written death penalty laws were constitutional, and executions resumed in the U.S. shortly thereafter.
From then until the mid-'90s, death penalty support climbed, reaching 80% in 1994, a year in which Americans consistently named crime as the most important problem facing the United States.
The current era of lower support may be tied to death penalty moratoriums in several states beginning around 2000 after several death-row inmates were later proven innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted. More recently, since 2006, six states have repealed death penalty laws outright, including Maryland this year.
Politics is a major dividing line in Americans' death penalty views -- 81% of Republicans currently favor it, compared with 47% of Democrats. Independents' 60% support matches the national average.
Support among all three party groups has declined in the last 25 years, with the largest drop among Democrats. Democrats' level of support is currently down 28 percentage points from its 1994 peak and has fluctuated around the 50% mark for the last several years. Independents' support has generally been in the 60% range since 2000, but was consistently above 70% from the late 1980s through 1999. Republicans' support has averaged 80% since 2000, but averaged a higher 85% from 1988-1999....
A separate question asking about the frequency of use of the death penalty finds 44% of Americans saying the death penalty in the U.S. is not imposed often enough -- rather than too often or the right amount of time. Americans have always been most likely to say the death penalty is not imposed often enough, consistent with their generally favoring the death penalty. However, the current percentage holding that view is among the lowest Gallup has measured. Exactly half as many, 22%, believe the death penalty is imposed too often....
Gallup's nearly 80-year history of measuring death penalty attitudes shows that Americans generally favor the practice, but there have been distinct eras of higher or lower support. And state and federal laws, as well as legal rulings, have tended to move in concert with public opinion. Support is now the lowest in four decades, and a growing number of states have taken action to abolish the death penalty.
Monday, October 28, 2013
"No Drugs, No Executions: The End of the Death Penalty"The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new article in The National Journal. The piece, which carries the sub-heading "As states scramble to find new cocktails of death, could a lack of options spell the end of capital punishment?," merits a full read. Here are a few excerpts:
On Oct. 15, Florida executed William Happ, a man who most agreed deserved little sympathy. Happ kidnapped 21-year-old Angela Crowley in 1986 from outside a convenience store in Crystal River and raped and strangled her before dumping her tormented body into the Cross Florida Barge Canal....
Happ died for his crimes committed 27 years ago. Like hundreds before him, Happ's death was administered through an intravenous injection of a lethal drug cocktail. Like no one before him, Happ was injected with midazolam hydrochloride, a sedative that had never before been used for an execution in the United States.
Happ's execution reflects an American death-penalty system in crisis: States are running out of the drugs they rely on to carry out death sentences as alternatives for how to secure them quickly diminish. And no one wants to innovate in the execution industry. As the medical community works to distance itself from the science of killing people, states are attempting to forge a difficult road ahead, one fraught with litigation, international tension, and uncertainty....
Florida is just one of several states scrambling to update or refine its capital-punishment protocol amid a sudden shortfall of its lethal injection drugs, resulting in an unprecedented inconsistency in the way inmates are executed in the United States. Even as a steady majority continues supporting the death penalty, the difficulty in obtaining new lethal drugs, associated legal hurdles, and a gaping void of better execution alternatives has left capital punishment in America with an uncertain future....
Eight days after Florida executed Happ, Missouri planned to put Allen Nicklasson to death with propofol. The anesthetic, which contributed to Michael Jackson's death by overdose in 2009, had also never been used before for a human execution. But buckling from pressure from the medical community, which argued propofol could inflict inhumane levels of pain, Gov. Jay Nixon halted Nicklasson's execution to ensure "justice is served and public health is protected." But a more practical matter was likely weighing on Nixon's mind: German manufacturer Fresenius Kabi had threatened to stop shipping propofol to the U.S. if the drug was allowed to be used for executions....
Doctors and researchers aren't exactly clamoring to develop new methods of killing people, and no one is advocating a regression to older forms of execution, like the electric chair or gas chamber. But even if a new, cutting-edge technique was developed somewhere, that too would almost certainly provoke a torrent of litigation.
UPDATE: Just this afternoon, I saw this local story from my own Columbus Dispatch reporting that a "shortage of pentobarbital will force Ohio prisons officials to rely on two drugs they have never used before for the scheduled Nov. 14 execution of Ronald Phillips of Summit County."
Given Ohio's history with lethal injection litigation, I would expect there to be some court action concerning this development in the next few weeks. Whether that court action is likely to delay any scheduled executions is hard for me to predict.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Mizzou revamps its lethal injection protocol and drug source for next executionAs reported in this new Reuters article, Missouri just announced new execution procedures to deal with lethal drug acquisition problems. Here are the basics and some national context:
The New Republic has published a somewhat related article here under the headline "Big Pharma May Help End the Death Penalty: Boycotts don't work against Texas executioners. But they could hurt pharmaceutical firms that make execution drugs."
A "compounding pharmacy" will supply lethal injection drugs for future executions in Missouri, the latest U.S. state to turn to the lightly regulated sector after major pharmaceutical companies refused to sell drugs for executions, the state said on Tuesday.
The Missouri Department of Corrections said in a brief statement that it would switch to using a single drug for executions, pentobarbital. Missouri had used a three drug protocol until recently. "The department also announced that it has added a compounding pharmacy to its execution team," the statement said. Asked the name of the pharmacy, department spokesman David Owen said that information could not be disclosed.
Missouri is the latest of a half dozen U.S. states turning for lethal injection drugs to compounding pharmacies - which typically mix drugs for individual prescriptions and are subject to light federal government regulation. The practice has drawn protests from opponents of the death penalty and advocates for death row inmates, who say the lack of regulation risks a botched execution.... Compounding pharmacies must register with state authorities but their products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Texas this month executed its first prisoner using a drug from a compounding pharmacy. Other states which have turned to such suppliers or have said they may do so soon include Georgia, South Dakota, Colorado and Ohio. A judge in Georgia this year granted a temporary stay of execution for a prisoner in part because of concerns about the quality of the compounded drug.
Missouri announced earlier this month that it would search for a new drug for executions after it came under pressure from drug makers, especially in Europe, not to use the drug propofol in executions.
Can a state continue with execution plans for murderers still on death row after repeal of capital punishment?
The question in the title of this post is being considered today by the Connecticut Supreme Court, as explained in this AP article:
The Connecticut Supreme Court [today] plans to take up the appeal of Daniel Webb, who is currently awaiting execution for the 1989 kidnapping and murder of Diane Gellenbeck, a Connecticut bank executive. Webb wants his death sentence overturned based on the 2012 law that abolished the death penalty in Connecticut, except for those who had already been sentenced to die.
His lawyers argue that the law violates Webb's constitutional rights to equal protection by treating him differently than others charged with similar crimes. They say it also shows the death penalty is inconsistent with current standards of decency in Connecticut and no longer serves any valid purpose.
Given that many folks (including plenty of liberal-leaning ones) seem to believe that it is not constitutionally problematic to have federal crack defendants still subject to excessively long mandatory minimum prison sentences even after Congress reduced these sentences, I assume that most folks also likely believe that it is not constitutionally problematic to have Connecticut's murder defendants still subject to execution even after the state legislature repealed the death penalty. It will be interesting to see if a majority of the Connecticut Supreme Court shares such a perspective (and whether, if it does, federal courts will also reach the same conclusion during inevitable additional appeals).
Monday, October 21, 2013
SCOTUS grants cert on federal restitution and state Atkins application casesI was actually starting to get a bit sad and worried that the US Supreme Court, after a few consecutive years of taking up a host of interesting and important sentencing issues, had decided this term to give little or no attention to the kinds of issues that serve as an obsession for me and this blog. But, thanks to two cert grants this morning, my belief that the Justices love the sentencing issues I love (or at least my faith that these issues are often too important for SCOTUS to ignore) has been restored. Here is the early report on these latest grants via SCOTUSblog:
The Supreme Court moved on Monday to settle a long-lingering issue: the legal standard for judging whether a person is too retarded mentally to be executed for a murder. That is the issue in Hall v. Florida (docket 12-10882). The Court also agreed to hear a second case, on the scope of restitution as a penalty for bank loan fraud. That is the issue in Robers v. U.S. (12-9012).....
The new death penalty case from Florida raised this issue: “Whether the Florida scheme for identifying mentally retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia.” In that 2002 decision, the Supreme Court had ruled that it is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to execute individuals who are found to be mentally retarded. The Court, however, left it to the states to decide who is mentally retarded and thus cannot be given the death penalty.
In the new case, attorneys for Freddie Lee Hall contended that Florida courts have adopted a “bright line” rule that a person is not mentally retarded unless their IQ falls below 70. The state Supreme Court found that Hall had an IQ of 71. In an earlier stage of Hall’s case, before the Supreme Court had decided the Atkins case, he had been found to be mentally retarded, the petition said.
The Hall case is certain to get lots of attention, and perhaps justifiably so. That case is, arguably, the first "major" capital criminal procedure case to be taken up by the Supreme Court in a number of years (and certainly the biggest one I can think of since Justices Kagan and Sotomayor joined the Court). And a ruling in Hall will necessarily have a some impact on all post-Atkins litigation in all death-penalty states.
Robers, in contrast, will likely get very little attention because the case appears only focus on a relative narrow and technical issue as to the application of a federal restitution statute. Nevertheless, even if the briefing in Robers ends up focused only on narrow and technical issues, I suspect the white-collar bar (as well as corporate counsel in various industries) will want to keep an eye on this case because its resolution could impact an array of corporate crime and punishment issues.
As I will surely cover in future posts as these cases get briefed and argued in early 2014, Hall and Robers both could become "super sleepers" of the current SCOTUS Term because both cases have lurking Fifth and Sixth Amendment issues that could (but likely will not) grab some Justices' attention. In both cases, critical facts that impact a defendant's sentence exposure are to be assessed and resolved by judges. Though I do not believe Apprendi-type Fifth and Sixth Amendment claims are being pressed by the defendants in these cases, it is certainly possible that some amici and some Justices will contend that Fifth and Sixth Amendment jurisprudence ought to impact how the issues in Hall and Robers get resolved.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Talk in Georgia about modifying its (too) tough approach to Atkins death penalty issueThis new AP article, headlined "Ga. to review tough death penalty provision," reports about talk of possible reform to Georgia's application of the constitutionally mandated death penalty exception for the mentally retarded. Here are excerpts:
The state that was the first to pass a law prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates is revisiting a requirement for defendants to prove the disability beyond a reasonable doubt — the strictest burden of proof in the nation.
A state House committee is holding an out-of-session meeting Thursday to seek input from the public. Other states that impose the death penalty have a lower threshold for proving mental disability, and some don't set standards at all....
Georgia's law is the strictest in the U.S. even though the state was also the first, in 1988, to pass a law prohibiting the execution of mentally disabled death row inmates. The U.S. Supreme Court followed suit in 2002, ruling that the execution of mentally disabled offenders is unconstitutional....
Thursday's meeting comes against the backdrop of the case of Warren Lee Hill, who was sentenced to die for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike, who was bludgeoned with a nail-studded board as he slept. At the time, Hill was already serving a life sentence for the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who was shot 11 times. Hil
l's lawyers have long maintained he is mentally disabled and therefore shouldn't be executed. The state has consistently argued that his lawyers have failed to prove his mental disability beyond a reasonable doubt. Hill has come within hours of execution on several occasions, most recently in July. Each time, a court has stepped in at the last minute and granted a delay based on challenges raised by his lawyers. Only one of those challenges was related to his mental abilities, and it was later dismissed.
A coalition of groups that advocate for people with developmental disabilities pushed for the upcoming legislative committee meeting and has been working to get Georgia's standard of proof changed to a preponderance of the evidence rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Hill's case has drawn national attention and has shone a spotlight on Georgia's tough standard, they say.
The process has taken an enormous amount of education, said Kathy Keeley, executive director of All About Developmental Disabilities. Rather than opposition to or support for the measure she's pushing, she's mostly encountered a lack of awareness about what the state's law says, she said. The groups are hoping to not only express their views at the meeting, but also to hear from others to get a broader perspective, Keeley said. The changes should be relatively simple and very narrow in scope, targeting only the burden of proof for death penalty defendants, she said.
Ashley Wright, district attorney for the Augusta district and president of the state District Attorneys' Association, said prosecutors question the logic of changing a law that they don't see as problematic and that has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts. "The district attorneys don't believe that you change a law for no reason and, in this case, the law appears to be working," she said. "Where has a jury done a disservice? Why are we putting all our eggs in the defendant's basket and forgetting that there's a victim?"
Prosecutors agree that the mentally disabled shouldn't be executed, and defendants are frequently spared the death penalty when there is proof of their mental disability supported by appropriate documentation from credible and reliable experts, she said.
But Hill's lawyer, Brian Kammer, argues that psychiatric diagnoses are complex, and "experts who have to make diagnoses do not do so beyond a reasonable doubt, they do it to a reasonable scientific certainty." Furthermore, he said, disagreements between experts make the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard nearly impossible to meet.... In Hill's case, a state court judge concluded the defendant was probably mentally disabled. In any other state, that would have spared him the death penalty, Kammer said.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
"The Federal Death Penalty and the Constitutionality of Capital Punishment"The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Scott Howe recently posted to SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The federal death penalty results in few executions but is central to the larger story of capital punishment in the United States. In the last decade, federal statutes governing the federal death penalty seem to have exerted outsize influence with the Supreme Court in its development of “proportionality” doctrine, the rules by which the Justices confine the use of capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In three cases rejecting capital punishment for mentally retarded offenders, juvenile offenders and child rapists, the Court noted that federal death-penalty statutes would have conferred protection against federal death prosecutions.
These decisions, and current federal death-penalty law, suggest that the Court could resolve certain nuanced proportionality problems by restricting the death penalty in the states. However, for observers who hope to see the Court eventually use proportionality analysis to abolish the death penalty or greatly restrict its use, these developments seem to carry mostly negative implications. The relatively broad application of federal death-penalty law would weigh against sweeping proportionality restrictions on the death penalty for murder. However, the article explains why the Court’s proportionality analysis fails adequately to consider low execution rates and why the rarity of federal executions, if persistent, should undermine any notion that federal death-penalty law and practice supports a national consensus favoring capital punishment for ordinary murder.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Two notable SCOTUS criminal procedure cases up for argument todayThe government shutdown is not preventing the Supreme Court from doing its usual work, and today that work includes hearing oral argument in two criminal cases: Kansas v. Cheever, a state death penalty case concerning Fifth Amendment issues and Kaley v. United States, a federal case concerning whether and when an indicted defendant's assets can be frozen. As usual, SCOTUSblog has terrific argument previews, and here are links and excerpts:
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that no one in a criminal case can “be compelled… to be a witness against himself.” In the case of death penalty defendant Scott Cheever, that means that the state obviously cannot require him to testify in his capital murder trial. But what if Cheever’s defense includes the argument that the murder could not have been premeditated because he was intoxicated at the time of the murder? Can the state rebut that defense by introducing testimony from the psychiatrist who conducted a court-ordered examination of Cheever? That is the question before the Court in Kansas v. Cheever.
Kaley v. United States... before the Court arises from the (seemingly increasingly) common practice of the government freezing the assets of an indicted criminal defendant, who needs the assets to hire a lawyer. The question is whether the defendant can challenge the grand jury’s determination that there is probable cause to indict him, when the indictment is the basis for the freeze. At first blush, that question sounds fairly dry. But criminal forfeitures are a key part of the federal government’s efforts to prosecute crime -- including because, by limiting a defendant’s ability to fight the charges against him, the pretrial restraining orders enhance the government’s ability to get either a guilty plea or a guilty verdict. As such, a pro-defendant ruling in the case could shift the balance of power in many criminal proceedings back away from the federal government. Underscoring the significance of the case is the fact that Michael Dreeben, the Deputy Solicitor General with primary responsibility for criminal cases at the Court, will argue on behalf of the United States.
For reasons suggested in these previews, I suspect the Cheever case will generally get more public attention even though the Kaley case is plainly far more consequential and important for the modern administration of criminal justice systems.
UPDATE: thanks to SCOTUSblog, I see now that the transcript from oral argument in Kaley v. United States is now here at this link and the oral argument transcript in Kansas v. Cheever is now here at this link.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Lethal uncertainty: Mizzou Gov postpones execution due to novel drug concernsAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Missouri gov. halts 1st US execution by propofol," the Show Me State has decided to delay its efforts to show whether a new drug might be used successful to executed condemned murderers. Here are the details:
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday halted what was to have been the first U.S. execution to use the popular anesthetic propofol, following threats from the European Union to limit the drug's export if it were used for that purpose.
Nixon also ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections to come up with a different way to perform lethal injections without propofol, the leading anesthetic used in America's hospitals and clinics. Nearly 90 percent of the nation's propofol is imported from Europe.
"As governor, my interest is in making sure justice is served and public health is protected," Nixon said in a statement. "That is why, in light of the issues that have been raised surrounding the use of propofol in executions, I have directed the Department of Corrections that the execution of Allen Nicklasson, as set for October 23, will not proceed."
Nixon, a Democrat and staunch supporter of the death penalty, did not specifically mention the EU threat in his brief statement. Nixon was Missouri's longtime attorney general before he was first elected governor in 2008. During his 16 years as attorney general, 59 men were executed.
The leading propofol maker, Germany-based Fresenius Kabi, and anesthesiologists had warned of a possible propofol shortage that could impact millions of Americans if any executions took place.
In a statement, Fresenius Kabi applauded Nixon's move. "This is a decision that will be welcomed by the medical community and patients nationwide who were deeply concerned about the potential of a drug shortage," said John Ducker, CEO of Fresenius Kabi USA. The company said propofol is administered about 50 million times annually in the U.S....
Drug makers in recent years have stopped selling potentially lethal pharmaceuticals to prisons and corrections departments because they don't want them used in executions. That has left the nearly three dozen death penalty states, including Missouri, scrambling for alternatives. Missouri altered its execution protocol in April 2012 to use propofol. The drug gained some level of infamy in 2009 when pop star Michael Jackson died of a propofol overdose.
Nixon's decision also leaves uncertain the execution scheduled for next month for another convicted killer, Joseph Franklin. Soon after Nixon's announcement, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a motion with the Missouri Supreme Court to vacate the Oct. 23 execution date for Nicklasson and to set a new date "soon after" Franklin's execution date of Nov. 20. A spokeswoman for Koster declined comment.
In addition to concerns raised about how the EU would respond to the execution, Missouri's decision to use propofol prompted a lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly two dozen death row inmates claiming use of the unproven execution drug could result in pain and suffering for the condemned man.
Koster, a Democrat, and Republican Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer have suggested that if the state can't execute by lethal injection it consider going back to the gas chamber, something that hasn't been used since the 1960s. Missouri no longer has a gas chamber but Schaefer recently wrote to Nixon, urging him to consider funding construction of a new one in his next fiscal year budget.
The corrections department on Wednesday agreed to return a shipment of propofol to Louisiana-based distributor Morris & Dickson Co. The company distributes propofol made in Europe by Fresenius Kabi and told the corrections department in November that its shipment was a mistake. Corrections spokesman David Owen said Wednesday that Missouri had a remaining supply of propofol, all of it domestically made. But Fresenius Kabi spokesman Matt Kuhn said even the use of domestically produced propofol in an execution could prompt the EU to impose export controls.
Meanwhile, Mercer Medical, a Kent, Wash.-based third-party vendor, said Friday in a news release it has asked for the 400 milliliters of propofol it sold to the corrections department in June be returned at the request of the manufacturer, Hospira. The website for Hospira says it is headquartered in Lake Forest, Ill....
Nicklasson's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, said she was pleased with the delay, but expects the state to move quickly to revise its execution protocol. "They're pretty anxious to execute people so I would think that the state would put something forward sooner rather than later," Herndon said.
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Arizona and Texas complete executions 29 and 30 in the US in 2013
Throughout the United States, there has been on average less than one execution per week in 2013; this year might end up having the fewest executions in the US in one calendar year in nearly two decades. (The Death Penalty Information Center has the yearly execution data well assembled here.) But as reported in the articles linked below, two states today brought total number of executions up to 30:
Split Tennessee Supreme Court extensively debates capital proportionality review
This local article from Tennessee, headlined "State Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence, Maintains Sentencing Review Standards For Death Penalty Cases," provides an effective summary of an extensive opinion handed down yesterday concerning capital proportionality review. Here are excerpts:
The 50+ page majority opinion in Tennessee v. Pruitt is available at this link, and the partial dissent which checks in at 18 pages is available here.
The Tennessee Supreme Court, in a 3-2 decision, has upheld a death sentence for a Memphis-area man who was convicted of first-degree felony murder after he killed an elderly man while stealing his car.While the entire Court agreed that Corinio Pruitt was guilty, the dissenting justices would have modified the sentence to life without parole.
In reviewing a death penalty case, the Court is required by Tennessee law to conduct what is called a “proportionality review” to ensure that the sentence of death is appropriate in comparison to similar cases. Before conducting a proportionality review with the specific facts in the Pruitt case, the Court first considered whether the methods for such review should be modified. In fact, after the case was argued before the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2012, the Court determined that the issue of proportionality review required additional briefing and argument. After receiving supplementary information from the parties, the Court held oral arguments a second time earlier this year.
The primary issue is the pool of cases used to conduct the comparison in a death penalty case. In conducting its proportionality review, the Court looks at the pool of cases and considers the facts of the crimes, the characteristics of the defendants, and the circumstances of the crimes, with a goal of determining whether a death sentence is excessive or disproportionate.
In 1997, the Court determined that it would compare all death penalty sentences to other cases in which the death penalty was sought. Prior to that, the Court considered all cases in which a defendant had been convicted of first-degree murder, but was not necessarily considered for a death sentence.
The Court on Tuesday rejected the proposal by the defense that it should broaden the pool of cases to include all first-degree murder cases, including those in which the death penalty was never sought. Instead, the Court upheld its previous decisions since 1997 that have conducted a proportionality review by looking only at cases in which the state sought the death penalty and in which a penalty phase was held, regardless of the sentence actually imposed by the jury.
The Court ruled it was inappropriate to review the prosecutors’ initial decisions regarding whether to seek the death penalty at the onset of the case, reaffirming its 1997 Opinion which “noted that including these first degree murder cases in the pool would equate to an implicit review of prosecutorial discretion, that is generally not subject to judicial review.”...
In their separate opinion, Justice William C. Koch, Jr. and Justice Sharon G. Lee, after noting that all murders are serious crimes, stated that comparing all first-degree murder cases would be more consistent with the Tennessee law that requires proportionality review and with the rule that capital punishment is not appropriate for all murders but is reserved for only the most heinous murders and the most dangerous murderers.
The two dissenting justices also pointed to a 2007 American Bar Association study of Tennessee’s death penalty, which stated that the limited pool of cases the Court adopted in 1997 undercut the purpose of proportionality review. After considering Mr. Pruitt’s background and the nature of his crime in light of similar first-degree murder cases in Tennessee, the two justices determined that Mr. Pruitt should be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
More evidence of the sad perversity of California's administration of the death penaltyAs the title of this post reveals, I have now decided that the best adjectives to describe the administration of the quasi-dormant death penalty in California are sad and perverse. This new local article, headlined "Serial killer's death sentence revives capital punishment debate," highlights why:
In 1977, 19-year-old Larry Roggasch cracked open a six-pack of beer, pouring three on his little sister's freshly covered grave in their native San Jose, and made a promise: He would see that the man who raped, strangled and dumped her on a Marin County hillside be punished.
Thirty-six years later, judgment day looms for serial killer Joseph Naso, who at age 79 will become the oldest person ever sentenced to death in California when a judge next month pronounces his penalty for the murders of 18-year-old Roxene Roggasch and three other Northern California prostitutes.
But Larry Roggasch doesn't know whether he can bear to watch Naso receive what seems to him a hollow sentence. With an ongoing moratorium on executions in California and hundreds of convicted murderers awaiting capital punishment, there is virtually no chance the state will ever put Naso to death.
"It's a joke; he's never going to be executed," said Roggasch, a 56-year-old commercial fisherman. "He's going to live out the rest of his life safe and comfortable in his own cell on death row. That's why I want him to go to mainline prison," Roggasch continued. "He needs to suffer, like them -- not just my sister, all of them."
In California, the death penalty appeals process takes so long that men half Naso's age on death row are more likely to die of natural causes or kill themselves than be executed by the state. And while they wait on San Quentin State Prison's death row, they lead a relatively comfortable existence, with single cells and access to the best attorneys fighting for prisoners' rights.
But on the heels of voters narrowly choosing to preserve the death penalty last year, California's district attorneys and peace officers are readying a proposition for the 2014 ballot that they say would expedite executions once the state lifts its moratorium on lethal injection drugs. Among those spearheading the effort are District Attorneys Steve Wagstaffe of San Mateo County, Jeff Rosen of Santa Clara County and Mark Peterson, whose Contra Costa County territory has been the scene of death penalty defendants mocking the threat of capital punishment in recent years.
"Some individuals facing murder charges would prefer the death penalty to life without parole because they believe the conditions on death row are better than among the general population," said Larry Barnes, a private defense attorney and death penalty expert. "They harbor the opinion that with some 720 men on death row, unless they are very young, they don't stand a chance of being executed."
Such was the case with Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll plaza killer Nathan Burris, who practically begged Contra Costa County jurors to give him the death penalty at his trial last year for the jealousy-fueled ambush killing of his ex-girlfriend and her friend.
"If I was in Texas, I'd be terrified," Burris said from the witness stand in 2012. "California is not real. The death penalty means nothing to me but time to hang out and do what I'm going to do."
In the same courtroom three years earlier, Edward Wycoff received the death penalty for the ambush slayings of his sister and brother-in-law in El Cerrito. He told jurors that he deserved an award, not the death penalty, but still wanted the one-to-a-cell status that death row provides.
Between California resuming executions in 1992 and the beginning of the state's judicially imposed moratorium in 2006, just 13 men who exhausted their appeals have been executed. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation counts 722 men and 20 women currently on death row, nearly 300 of whom have had their sentences affirmed by the Supreme Court. Experts say it takes 12 years on average for condemned inmates in California to exhaust their appeals, more than twice the national average for death penalty states.
Meanwhile, the costs mount; by one estimate, the state has spent more than $4 billion on death penalty trials, appeals and incarceration since 1978. "The death penalty process is broken, there is no dispute about that," said Peterson, who is part of Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings, a coalition of district attorneys, law enforcement professionals and victims' rights advocates in the process of raising $1.7 million to get on the November 2014 ballot an initiative they believe would cut the appeal process in half and save the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year....
But Ana Zamora, senior policy advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said Peterson and his coalition face "a serious uphill battle. The death penalty system is so broken beyond repair, there is no fixing the system that won't cost millions and millions and won't put at risk executing innocent people," she said.
In the meantime, San Quentin's death row more and more resembles a geriatric ward. Killer and serial rapist Darryl Kemp currently holds the distinction as the oldest person to be sentenced to death in advance of Naso's Nov. 8 sentencing. Kemp was 73 when he slept through his 2009 trial and sentencing for the rape and murder of a Lafayette mother three decades earlier.
It was the second death sentence for Kemp, who killed just four months after he was released from San Quentin in 1978 after a California Supreme Court ruling that made capital punishment unconstitutional and commuted all death sentences to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Today, at age 77, Kemp is in the preliminary stage of his appeal that will stretch for years.
I would like to believe that some kind of successful initiative campaign in California could somehow succeed in making the state's death penalty system less sad and perverse. But I suspect and fear that it is the deep ambivalence of California's populace, politicians and population of lawyers concerning a truly functional capital punishment system that has led to the current mess, and I doubt any set of formal legal changes are likely to be able to effectively transform the system's sad and perverse realities anytime soon.