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March 7, 2017

Detailing how common a very long wait on death row has become

Slate has this notable short piece on the long wait many condemned have before execution.  The piece is headlined "40 Years Awaiting Execution: For many death row inmates, the long process leading to capital punishment is itself cruel — but not unusual."  Here are excerpts:

In 1979, Arthur Lee Giles, then 19 years old, was sentenced to death in Blount County, Alabama.  Nearly 40 years later, he is still waiting to be executed.  His glacial march to execution exposes a conundrum at the heart of America’s death penalty. Condemned prisoners often spend decades on death row before being executed — if the execution ever happens at all — a fact that undermines any retributive value capital punishment might provide.

Approximately 40 percent of the 2,739 people currently on death row have spent at least 20 years awaiting execution, and 1 in 3 of these prisoners are older than 50.  (This is according to data collected by the Fair Punishment Project and sourced from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state corrections departments.)

According to a Los Angeles Times investigation, roughly two dozen men on California’s death row require walkers and wheelchairs, and one is living out his days in bed wearing diapers.  In North Carolina, nine death row prisoners have died of natural causes since 2006 — the same year the state last executed someone.  These delays suggest that executions must be sped up significantly.... 

With public support for executions at historic lows, death row delays seem likely to increase. Just 20 of the nearly 3,000 prisoners on death row nationwide were executed last year.

California is a prime example.  In 2014, a federal judge wrote that the state’s capital punishment system is actually a sentence of “life without parole with the remote possibility of death.”  The judge calculated that “just to carry out the sentences of the 748 inmates currently on Death Row, the State would have to conduct more than one execution a week for the next 14 years.”  That’s an unfathomable outcome in any state, much less in one that has not performed a single execution in more than a decade....

In an effort to combat these delays, California voters narrowly passed Proposition 66 in 2016, which promised to speed up executions by imposing more severe limitations on the death penalty appeals process. Yet Prop 66 has already faced significant constitutional challenges, and the California Supreme Court has stayed the initiative pending the outcome of a case filed by former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp and Ron Briggs, the two men who wrote the successful statewide proposition reinstating the death penalty in California 40 years ago.

March 7, 2017 at 08:24 PM | Permalink


The Supreme Court is so greedy and so stupid, it is refusing to see the self evident. In any group of 3000 adults, about 30 will die each year, more as they age.

27 of the 30 will endure a painful, prolonged, and humiliating death from natural causes. They will progressively deteriorate in function over months or years, and end up in diapers, cleaned up by illegal aliens.

That is the greatest cruelty of all. Lawyers like Bruce just do not care. They want to keep their jobs, when they could be earning more as excellent high school history teachers or herstory teachers.

No death penalty method nor even the idea of the death penalty will ever come close to this, the greatest cruelty of all. It gets worse. The rent seeking is so bad, they will not let the moribund go without tormenting them with pointless, expensive and torturous medical diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. They prolong the torment of the condemned, and will spend massive amounts on their pointless health care.

The lawyer profession is stupid and greedy.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 7, 2017 9:02:45 PM

See also, Breyer's dissent last night.


Posted by: Joe | Mar 8, 2017 10:46:33 AM

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