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October 24, 2008

More evidence that death penalty studies are ineffective if not attuned to political realities

There are no shortage of groups, ranging from national organizations like the ABA an the ACLU to lots of local groups, that devote extraordinary amounts of time and energy producing long and thoughtful reports criticizing the administration of the death penalty in various jurisdictions.  But this local article, headlined "Fla.'s death penalty unchanged 2 years after study," highlights that all this capital criticism does not often prompt any actual reforms. Here are snippets from the article:

Two years ago, an independent panel made 12 recommendations to reform Florida's death penalty process. That report has since done little more than gather dust ever since. None of the proposals from the American Bar Association panel of judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and college professors has been adopted by the state and it's now unlikely any ever will.

Some panel members say it all comes down to politics: Gov. Charlie Crist and state lawmakers don't want to appear soft on the death penalty by adopting measures that would be seen as impeding executions.... Christopher Slobogin, a former University of Florida law professor, was the chairman of the panel. He said state politicians fear that if they took up the panel's recommendations that "would make them look like they were anti-death penalty, which is the kiss of death, so to speak, in Florida politics."

But some legislators counter that many of the recommendations are unconstitutional and accuse the panel of making them with an anti-death penalty bias. "We've looked at all the recommendations that were available and we've made the necessary changes," said state Sen. Victor Crist, who is not related to the governor....

 Sandy D'Alemberte, former Florida State University president and a former president of the American Bar Association, served on the National Advisory Board of the ABA project, which also examined the death penalty in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. He believes changes still need to be made. "The whole system of criminal justice is broken," he said. "Look at the number of DNA exonerations in Florida and these have not been followed by any corrections of the problems in the system."

Gov. Crist has no further interest in the ABA's suggestions, according to his spokesman, Sterling Ivey. He is particularly opposed to requiring an unanimous jury recommendation.

October 24, 2008 at 08:25 AM | Permalink


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I have yet to see a single report that was not produced by a group with a preset agenda on one side or the other, mostly anti and a very few pro. For the legislators to correctly recognize agenda-driven reports for what they are is a good thing.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 24, 2008 10:32:45 AM

Desiring jury unanimity = "agenda-driven"?

I'm sure the Fla. legislature rejects all other "agenda-driven" policy recommendations they receive, too.

Posted by: Texas Lawyer | Oct 24, 2008 5:47:25 PM

I will agree with the sentiment I think Kent was hinting at, that these broad based "we need to fix the problems" reports and commissions generally don't have success. I'm not sure Kent's argument, however, is entirely correct. Where the study commission comes from a legislative process or an executive decision there seems to be a real chance for reform. It was capital punishment "study commissions" that lead to the repeal in NJ (indeed, it was that retentionists on the NJ committee changed their mind that lead to the repeal)and that lead to the reforms in Illinois that have been a model for the rest of the country. Likewise, narrowly tailored studies and reports from outside of government (as opposed to the broad based ABA reports) seem to have have been at least partially responsible for stirring legislative action to ban (at the state level) the punishment of death for those living with mental retardation, the adoption of AEDPA, and for sparing juvenile offenders (again at the state level) from capital punishment.

I also would like to add one additional caveat, the impact on informing the judicial branch and local prosecutors about possible problems with the death penalty system in a given jurisdiction may lead to changes in court rules, court procedure and charging decisions. Whether reports like the ABA's reports will have that type of impact remains to be seen.

Posted by: karl | Oct 25, 2008 2:43:03 PM

"Desiring jury unanimity = 'agenda-driven'?"

For anyone writing a text on fallacious arguments, here is a prime example of the straw man fallacy.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 27, 2008 10:46:38 AM

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