Monday, August 08, 2005

Fahrenheit 911: "The temperature at which freedom burns..."

Justice Stevens Criticizes Death Penalty

Associated Press Writer
Sun Aug 7,10:44 PM ET

CHICAGO - Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens steered the debate over President Bush's nominee to a new subject: capital punishment, sharply condemning the country's death penalty system.


Stevens was speaking in Illinois, his home state and a place that has been roiled by controversy over the death penalty. In 2000, wrongful convictions led then-Gov. George Ryan to halt all executions.

It also came just a day after a Virginia jury decided against the inmate whose case led to a 2002 Supreme Court ban on executing the mentally retarded. The jury said Daryl Atkins was mentally competent and could be put to death.

Stevens wrote that 2002 Atkins decision, which was joined by O'Connor. One of the three dissenters was Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who hired Roberts as a law clerk in 1980. A year later, as a Justice Department lawyer, Roberts wrote in a memo that the availability of federal court appeals, "particularly for state prisoners, goes far to making a mockery of the entire criminal justice system."

Stevens, however, laid out the case for close review of appeals, pointing to "special risks of unfairness" in capital punishment.

According to the anti-capital punishment Death Penalty Information Center, more than three dozen death row inmates have been exonerated since 2000.

Said Scheidegger, "I wouldn't say that 20 or 30 cases out of 8,000 constitutes a broken system."


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More than 135 death penalty convictions in Illinois have been reversed or sentences vacated on appeal.
The Chicago Tribune’s study of 285 capital cases between 1977-1999 found that 39 defendants had attorneys who were later disbarred or disciplined, 46 cases used jailhouse snitches, whose testimony is notoriously unreliable; 35 African American defendants were sentenced to death by all-white juries; and in 20 cases unreliable or fraudulent lab test results were used.