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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

North Carolina prosecutor who sent 5 to death row: It's time to end death penalty

Vince Rabil
Vince Rabil
25 years ago, as an assistant district attorney in Forsyth County, Vince Rabil helped put Blanche Taylor Moore on death row. 

Today, Rabil says it is time to end the death penalty and calls Moore - a frail 82-year-old still sitting on death row - "a living monument to the failure of a vanishing legal remedy."

In an op-ed published Sunday, Rabil repudiates a punishment that he spent nearly 2 decades of his career fighting to uphold. In the 1990s, he prosecuted a dozen people for the death penalty and put at least 5 on death row. Four remain there today.

Rabil believed so strongly in the death penalty that, in 1997, he became the 1st prosecutor in the country to seek death for a drunk driver. "This will seriously make everyone stop after the 1st drink or the 2nd one," he said at the time.

Now, Rabil says the death penalty is a broken system that costs taxpayers dearly, threatens innocent defendants, and does little to comfort the grieving families of victims. He says life with no possibility of parole is a more appropriate replacement.

Rabil's transformation reveals how much our state has evolved since the 1990s, when a blind faith in the capital punishment system allowed us to sentence dozens of people a year to die. 

This year, N.C. juries didn't hand down a single death sentence, executions remained on hold for a 9th year, and public opposition to the death penalty reached its highest point since the 1970s. In North Carolina, even a Republican legislator came out against capital punishment.

At the same time, Rabil's courageous stance against the death penalty marks a turning point in North Carolina. While many prosecutors, current and former, no doubt have serious concerns about the death penalty, Rabil is the 1st in our state to take such a public stand.

We applaud Rabil for speaking the truth that so many others are afraid to admit.

Source: nccadp, December 14, 2015

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