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March 10, 2008

Looking at the real stories of the death penalty in NYC

This morning's New York Times has this fascinating piece, headlined "Aversion to Death Penalty, but No Lack of Cases," exploring capital prosecutions in New York by federal authorities. Here are excerpts:

In the 20 years since the federal death penalty statute was revived, no federal juries have been more reluctant to sentence federal defendants to death than those in New York. According to records compiled by the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, which coordinates the defense of capital punishment cases, federal prosecutors in New York State have asked juries to impose death sentences 19 times since 1988. In only one case did a jury rule for execution. Nationwide, federal prosecutors win death penalties about one-third of the time, according to the group’s statistics.

But despite this track record, the cases have not stopped coming: In Brooklyn alone, there are six more capital cases on the docket this year, including those of a reputed Mafioso and of two men charged with killing Guyanese immigrants to collect their life insurance policies. The first of these trials — of Gilberto Caraballo, a Brooklyn drug dealer convicted last month of murdering two rivals — will enter its so-called penalty phase on Monday.

Federal judges in New York have gone so far as to call some death penalty cases a waste of time and money. Last week, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of Federal District Court in Brooklyn told prosecutors that their chances of obtaining a death sentence against a drug dealer charged with dismembering two rivals were “virtually nil” and issued an order in which he said he was waiting for the Justice Department to reconsider whether to pursue an execution.

Officials in the federal prosecutors’ offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as the Department of Justice in Washington, declined to comment on their record in death penalty cases.

Lawyers and other experts in the field say that a variety of reasons underpin New York’s status as a tough sell in death penalty cases. They say that there is a fundamental liberal slant to juries in the state, and that New York has some of the best death penalty defense lawyers in the country. They also say many victims in New York capital cases are unsavory characters: drug dealers, mobsters or members of street gangs — not the sort of people whose killers are likely to be punished with death.

“New York has the worst batting average in the country,” said Kevin McNally, a defense lawyer in Kentucky and the director of the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. Federal juries in Connecticut and New Jersey have never ruled for death since 1988, but only three cases have gone before juries in those two states.

March 10, 2008 at 09:39 AM | Permalink


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Sort of an interesting corollary to the victims’ rights industry usual tripe about how victims of murders are “good” people and therefore appeals should be truncated: in many instances the “victims” are not really good people but the kind of folks that prosecutors would rather put in jail for life if the law had gotten to them first.

Maybe there is room for agreement between the victims rights industry and everyone else. Perhaps in order to render someone death eligible, prosecutors should be required to prove that the “victim” 1) graduated from an accredited school; 2) maintained a 3.0 GPA; 3) was not guilty of any felonies (nor was charged with any); and 4) was free of narcotics. This way, prosecutors would not be stuck trying to execute someone for killing someone that should have been in jail, anyway.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 10, 2008 10:18:52 AM

Is there a pun I'm missing, or is it a mistake when the post title says NYC. As I understand it, the article is about the state as a whole. I realize that there's some dispute about the matter, but I think the majority position is that there are parts of New York that exist outside of the city.

Posted by: | Mar 10, 2008 3:04:15 PM

The article mentions that it sought comments from "officials in the federal prosecutors’ offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan," and the article's main focus seems to be principally on NYC, not all of NY state. Of course, given Monday's events in Albany, all of NY state is certainly buzzing about crime and punishment now...

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 11, 2008 7:15:18 AM

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