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November 20, 2010

Complaints about capital justice delayed in Nevada

Echoing a similar piece from Ohio noted earlier this week, a local station in Las Vegas has this new piece about capital justice delayed in Nevada.  The story is headlined "Victim's Families Wait Decades for Death Penalties to be Carried Out," and here are excerpts:

For all practical purposes, the death penalty in Nevada functions as a sentence of life without parole.  In the last 30 years, the state has executed just one person who wasn't a volunteer.  Advocates on both sides of the issue agree the system doesn't work, but no one is more frustrated by it than the families of the victims....

[M]ore than half of the 83 inmates currently on death row have been there a decade or longer. Two have surpassed the 30 year mark.  They are delayed due to constitutionally-protected appeals of the process that put them there.

"I can sympathize with the victims," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Owens. "We have a death penalty. Is it being carried out the way it was intended? I don't think so. I don't see that we ever really reach an end where people are running out of their appellate rights."...

"They shouldn't be allowed a second and third and fourth bite at the apple," said Owens. "You shouldn't have to review a case for 20 years to decide whether this was a valid imposition of the death penalty."

UNLV law professor Christopher Blakesley echoes the frustrations on both sides of the debate.  Yet ultimately, he defends the existing process absent a workable alternative. "You have to do it right because there are so many innocent people that we're finding out have been convicted and if you don't go through all this, they'll be executed," he said.

People like former Nevada death row inmate Ronnie Milligan, recently ordered released after 20 years.  Evidence uncovered during his death penalty appeal suggests he may be innocent of murder.

November 20, 2010 at 09:20 PM | Permalink


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As usual the enablers of 20-30 years on death row slink in.

Virginia executes in 6 years and Nevada can do the same thing.

It's easy to do.

Have time limits on filing appeals and their replies. Make sure that all appeals, both direct and writs, are all filed at the same time, within those time frames.

The only exception to not filing appeals within that time frame will be either new evidence or a new law.

5-7 years for all appeals to make their way through both state and federal courts.


Don't listen to these nonsense excuses for it not to be done.

The main fly in the ointment may be judges who allow delay after delay.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Nov 21, 2010 8:22:29 AM

Dudley - so be damned to the likes of Ronnie Milligan? Too bad if innocent? I would like to see you in his place those 20 years. Or to be a friend or relative over that time! From your ivory tower it must seem so academic. Judges who now want to have a degree of certainty before signing an execution order are now "flies in the ointment"? You haven't a clue.

Posted by: peter | Nov 21, 2010 9:30:14 AM

I suspect, Peter, that Mr. Milligan if he is truly innocent would have been released a lot earlier if the rules Dudley proposes were in effect.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 21, 2010 2:18:14 PM

federalist - You cannot say that with any degree of confidence, for example, in cases where it has been dna testing that has been the catalyst for a reassessment of the evidence, or for future cases where technological improvements in forensics may shed new light. Also, as usual, you gloss over the fact that the "reviews" Dudley refers to are primarily those established elements that simply reaffirm the correctness or otherwise of the legal process that has gone before. Very often, and most significantly, it is the finding of new evidence of innocence that is the difficult thing - but as Milligan and others show, it is not impossible even after 20 years! Defendants, remember, have to rely on others to find that evidence where it exists. Depending in part on the resources deployed, that process will not always conveniently fit your time plan, especially given the weaknesses in systems of indigent defense and support.

Posted by: peter | Nov 21, 2010 4:23:28 PM

Perhaps if we put more time, money and quality of representation into the original trial, it would raise confidence that the jury reached the correct result on both guilt and imposition of the death penalty and lessen concerns that an innocent person might be executed. Spending the money up front to get it right seems to me to be more economically sound than spending a lot of money post-trial to try to find an error. That is particularly true with all the procedural and standard of review limitations on direct appeal as well as collateral proceedings.

Posted by: Iowa Attorney | Nov 22, 2010 11:23:40 AM

Iowa Attorney - It sounds good and sensible, yet the insurmountable argument remains that on the question of evidence of innocence, or evidence that suggests a lesser culpability that renders the sentence too harsh, or evidence that renders a conviction unsafe because it undermines key prosecution assertions upon which the jury relied ---- none of these forms of evidence can fairly or confidently be assumed to appear within a given time frame. It is that, alongside the moral argument that ALL life should be held sacrosanct, that is at the heart of the abolitionist position .... the death penalty is irreversible, and no matter how "obvious" guilt appears, history has shown time and time again that error of judgment can and does occur.
That is not to say that it would not be right and sensible to substantially improve the quality of defense representation through the use of better skilled, experienced and well funded attorneys at trial, and I should add ... to remove the political pressure on prosecutors to secure prosecution by whatever means. There has to be a redefining of the term Justice in the US. It should not be a question of justice for whom, but Justice per se.

Posted by: peter | Nov 22, 2010 1:13:17 PM

thank you. i love to read this type of information posts. again thank you...

Posted by: kiral─▒k devrem├╝lkler | Mar 18, 2011 1:31:48 PM

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