THIS WEEK FROM DPIC
Week of March 15, 2010 - March 22, 2010
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Posted: March 19, 2010
<SealGA.jpg>Georgia Supreme Court's chief justice recently warned that cuts to the state budget are making it increasingly difficult for its courts to carry out their constitutionally mandated duties. Carol Hunstein announced during a state of the judiciary address that the court's backlog has grown as money has dwindled. In 2009, the judicial branch received less than eight-tenths of 1% of the total state appropriations. Hunstein said, "The consequences of these cuts … hit everyone, threatening the basic constitutional rights of civil litigants and criminal defendants as core court functions go by the wayside. And, according to the Wall Street Journal article, while judiciaries are being squeezed nationwide, 'Georgia's situation appears particularly severe.'" Hunstein also indicated that one superior court judge has 16 death penalty cases still pending, partly because of the elimination of funding for senior judges. In Fulton County, there are currently 183 murder cases awaiting trial, half of which are more than a year old. Chief Judge Dee Downs said of the situation, "This isn't justice. We're losing the rule of law." Read more
Posted: March 18, 2010
A recent editorial in the Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review called for elimination of the death penalty in light of its high costs and the state's tight budget. Executions are uncertain and delayed by the necessity of appeals to ensure the constitutionality of the trial. The editorial cited a study by the Washington Bar Association that identified over $600,000 in additional costs for a capital case: "death penalty cases are estimated to generate roughly $470,000 in additional costs to the prosecution and defense over the cost of trying the same case as an aggravated murder without the death penalty and costs of $47,000 to $70,000 for court personnel. On direct appeal, the cost of appellate defense averages $100,000 more in death penalty cases than in non-death penalty murder cases." The editorial said changing the state's method of execution only sidestepped the problems and called for life imprisonment without the possibility parole as the best solution to the issues raised by the death penalty. Read full text: Read more
Posted: March 17, 2010
<page13.jpg>The results of a poll of police chiefs recently featured in DPIC's report "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis" is now available in the form of a slide presentation on the Web, suitable for use in workshops or discussion groups. The poll, commissioned by DPIC and conducted by R.T. Strategies of Washington, DC, surveyed a national sample of 500 randomly selected U.S. police chiefs on questions regarding the death penalty and reducing violent crime. Although the police chiefs did not oppose the death penalty philosophically, they found it to be an ineffective crime fighting tool. Among those surveyed, only 1% of the chiefs listed greater use of the death penalty as the best way to reduce violence. The poll also showed police chiefs ranking the death penalty as the least efficient use of taxpayers' money among programs to fight crime. Most of the police chiefs did not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.
Posted: March 16, 2010
A recent article in the Akron Law Review asks whether the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA) is in compliance with the Sixth Amendment's right to confront witnesses because it allows hearsay evidence in determining whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty. During a typical criminal trial, the accused has the right to challenge and cross examine the testimony of state witnesses who must appear in person. But in a death penalty case, the FDPA allows statements of witnesses not present in the courtroom to be used to determine whether the defendant's case fits one of the aggravating factors necessary for a death sentence. The article's authors, Michael Pepson and John Sharifi, write: "[A]llowing the government to prove statutory aggravating factors … with testimonial hearsay, even where the defendant has never had an opportunity to cross-examine the declarant(s), is not constitutional." The authors suggest two constitutional alternatives: doing away entirely with the FDPA or revising the law to include the aggravating-factor determination in the guilt phase of the trial, subject to the usual rules of evidence. This would allow federal capital defendants to confront witnesses regarding the critical question of whether they are eligible for a death sentence. Read more
Posted: March 15, 2010
<SealGA.jpg>Lawyers for Khanh Dinh Phan asked the Georgia Supreme Court to dismiss the charges against him or to bar the state from seeking the death penalty because the state has been unable to pay for Phan's defense. After his arrest in 2005, Chris Adams and Bruce Harvey were appointed to represent Phan. "The state of Georgia has made Mr. Harvey and myself potted plants," Adams recently said. "We are lawyers in name only. ... The state of Georgia has failed, and failed miserably, in this case." The case has yet to go to trial, and the state public defender system has been unable to pay for attorney fees, expert witnesses, and for investigators. Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter agreed that there has been no money for the defense, and that the state defender system is "fatally flawed," but urged the judges not to dismiss the charges or strike the death penalty. Porter said, "We all agree that funding has not been provided, and I don't know if there's a realistic possibility funding will be provided." The Georgia Supreme Court is expected to rule in a similar issue in which a Pike County death penalty defendant has waited four years to go to trial because there was no funding for his defense. Read more
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