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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Seventeen Australians on or facing death row a year after Bali Nine deaths

Figures show Australian federal police provided information for ‘potential death penalty situations’ 74 times in past year

In the year since Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran faced an Indonesian firing squad, their wishes appear to have been posthumously granted, at least in part – no more Australians have been added to the list of those potentially facing the death penalty.

But of at least 17 Australians still thought to be at risk of execution overseas, life on death row has become a grim reality for at least one man and the fate of another could be known within days.

On the anniversary of the execution of Chan and Sukumaran over a thwarted plan to smuggle heroin out of Bali, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not respond when asked how many Australians in jail could face capital punishment.

It is understood there has been no change to the number Dfat confirmed last year, with groups including the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties not aware of any new cases.

But, in the past year, the prospect of execution drew closer for a former Adelaide jockey given a suspended death sentence in China for smuggling ice.

And a verdict on another ice smuggling case in China, which will decide the fate of a young dual Australian and New Zealand citizen, could be just days away.

The two men are among as many as 11 Australians thought to be held over drug prosecutions in a single southern Chinese city, Guangzhou. The possibility of execution by lethal injection or firing squad looms for all of them.

In Malaysia, an Australian woman could be hanged if found guilty of drug smuggling. In Vietnam, a Sydney man faces the prospect of secret execution by lethal injection of locally manufactured chemicals of “unknown efficacy”, according to Amnesty International.

While the number of Australians on or facing death row held steady, the level of involvement by the Australian federal police in transnational investigations that could result in death penalties declined – but was still significant.

Figures provided to Guardian Australia show the AFP provided information for investigations known as “potential death penalty situations” 74 times in the past year.

Guardian Australia was told that information provided by the AFP could include criminal history or lack thereof in Australia, which may be used by the accused to bolster their defences. The AFP has faced prolonged criticism for its role in tipping off Indonesian authorities about the plot of the “Bali Nine”, which led to Chan and Sukumaran’s executions.

A Guangzhou customs official in 2014 cited growing cooperation with the AFP in recent years after a surge in drug arrests in the city involving Australians.

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Source; The Guardian, Joshua Robertson, April 282016

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