Saturday, February 10, 2007

Slate Weighs In On The Death Penalty

Professor Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy links to numerous stories recently published regarding the very uncertain status of capital punishment in the USA. You can add to that ever-growing list a lengthy piece by Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate entitled, "Sudden Death: American Support For The Death Penalty Is Diminishing — Except On The Supreme Court." She writes:

In recent years the national doubts over the death penalty were mirrored at the Supreme Court. In a 2006 survey of trends in capital cases in the Georgetown Law Journal, Duke University professor Erwin Chemerinsky observed that in the final years of the Rehnquist Court, the justices showed a marked, and surprising, tendency to overturn death sentences. In addition to reversing individual sentences, the justice banned executions of the mentally retarded and those who were juveniles at the time of their crimes, and made it easier for death-row defendants to argue ineffectiveness of counsel. Off the bench, Stevens, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke publicly and passionately about flaws in the capital system. Chemerinsky speculated that "a majority of the court was (and continues to be) deeply concerned about how the death penalty is administered in the United States." "The reality of innocent people facing execution has had a profound effect on the Justices," he concluded.

But, partly as a result of the changes wrought by the Bush administration in the composition of the court, there now seems to be a subtle hardening in favor of the death penalty.

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