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February 21, 2009

Tennessee legislators talking reform of death penalty administration

As detailed in this local article, headlined "Tennessee's death penalty laws need major reform, legislative group says," legislators in the volunteer state are talking about how to improve the state's administration of capital punishment. Here are details from the start of the article:

Tennessee's death penalty needs major reform to ensure that people facing execution get fair trials, said members of a legislative study committee which just ended 16 months of analyzing how capital crimes are prosecuted in this state.

The study committee, which included people for and against the death penalty, was asked to look for ways to make capital punishment more fairly and accurately applied across the state.

Four bills related to the recommendations have been introduced and are sponsored by the committee's chairmen, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, and Rep. Kent Coleman, D-Murfreesboro. The committee wants the state legislature to: 

  • Require defense attorneys in capital cases to be highly qualified;
  • Mandate that defense attorneys have uniform access to evidence against their clients;
  • Require police officers to record all interrogations related to a homicide case;
  • Force the state to set realistic timetables for litigating capital cases so families are not revictimized by decades of appeals.

Needless to say, these reforms necessarily come with a significant price tag.  In these lean times, I would be very surprised if Tennessee find the resources necessary to make these sensible recommendations a reality.  Notably, this article includes some discussion of these cost issues:

"I think my biggest surprise, though I had an idea, is that the death penalty is a very expensive process," said Rep. Bill Dunn, R–Knoxville. "It has to be in order to get the right verdict, but I don't think the average taxpayer knows what it costs to seek this penalty."  Neither does the state, according to the report. The comptroller's office testified that no effective way exists to track the costs of capital punishment cases to the state....

Two members of the committee voted against the final draft of the report on Thursday, citing opposition to the costly recommendation of creating an independent authority to oversee the representation of suspects facing the death penalty, starting with their trials.

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February 21, 2009 at 11:54 AM | Permalink


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How about in addition to requiring that defense attorneys be "highly qualified" that we require the prosecutors to me "highly ethical", because it is usually the knucklehead prosecutor who messes things up and convicts the wrong person.

Posted by: Ferry County Attorney | Feb 22, 2009 2:40:23 AM

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