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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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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 -…

Breyer Renews Attack, Alone, on Capital Punishment

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer resumed his critique of the death penalty in America on Monday, but without the help of any other justice.

Breyer alone dissented from the court's denial of review in Boyer v. Davis, a California case in which inmate Richard Boyer claims that his extended stay on death row - he was sentenced to death 32 years ago - violates the Eighth Amendment.

Referring specifically to California's death row, Breyer wrote that the state has executed "only a small, apparently random set of death row inmates" in recent years. "A vast and growing majority remained incarcerated, like Boyer, on death row under a threat of execution for ever longer periods of time."

Breyer quoted from his own dissent in the 2015 decision Glossip v. Gross, where he declared that "the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited 'cruel and unusual punishmen[t]'" under the Eighth Amendment.

In that dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer listed the defects he saw in the administration of the death penalty. In his dissent from denial on Monday, he invoked three of those "defects."

"Put simply," Breyer wrote, "California's costly administration of the death penalty likely embodies 3 fundamental defects about which I have previously written: "(1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty's penological purpose."

Boyer was convicted on charges he murdered an elderly couple in Fullerton, California in 1982. His 1st trial ended in a mistrial, and his conviction and death sentence were reversed by the California Supreme Court. He had a 3rd trial in1992, and his appeal was denied by the high court in 2006.

"These delays are the result of a system that the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, an arm of the State of California, has labeled dysfunctional," Breyer wrote. "The commission added that California's death penalty system was expensive, with its system for capital cases costing more than 10 times what the commission estimated the cost would be for a system that substituted the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole."

In an interview with The National Law Journal last year, Breyer said he had been working on his Glossip dissent "for a while" and waited for a case to come along in which he could use it. "This case was there and it seemed an appropriate place to say what I thought on the issue. I thought we should use that case, as I said in the opinion, to go into the basic problem here, which I thought was whether the death penalty itself is constitutional."

Asked then if he thought the dissent would result in an end to capital punishment soon, Breyer said, "I am going to be Yogi Berra. I never make predictions, especially about the future."

Source: nationallawjournal.com, May 2, 2016


In California Case, Justice Breyer Assails Capital Punishment

WASHINGTON — Renewing his attack on capital punishment, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said in a dissent on Monday that his colleagues were wrong to turn down a challenge to California’s death penalty system, which he called unreliable, arbitrary and plagued by “unconscionably long delays.”

The case was brought by Richard D. Boyer, who has cited the stress of his long wait on death row after being sentenced in 1984 for the murders of an elderly couple in Fullerton, Calif. Referring to the conclusions of a state commission in 2008, Justice Breyer said the delays in Mr. Boyer’s case were the product of a dysfunctional system.

“More California death row inmates had committed suicide than had been executed by the state,” he wrote. “Indeed, only a small, apparently random set of death row inmates had been executed. A vast and growing majority remained incarcerated, like Boyer, on death row under a threat of execution for ever longer periods of time.”

San Quentin's death row
San Quentin's death row
Justice Breyer has emerged as the court’s leading critic of the death penalty. In a sweeping 46-page dissent last June, he urged the court to take a fresh look at the constitutionality of the death penalty.

“It is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” he wrote, referring to the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments. Justice Breyer said that death row exonerations were frequent, that evidence showed innocent people had been executed, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily, and that the capital justice system was warped by racial discrimination and politics.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also signed the June dissent. Wednesday’s two-page dissent was a sort of summary of the longer one, and this time Justice Breyer wrote only for himself. The court gave no reason for rejecting the new case, Boyer v. David, No. 15-8119.

Justice Breyer stressed a theme that has long troubled him: that long delays between death sentences and executions might themselves violate the Eighth Amendment.

“It is difficult to deny the suffering inherent in a prolonged wait for execution,” Justice Breyer wrote in a similar dissent in 1999, adding that “our Constitution was written at a time when delay between sentencing and execution could be measured in days or weeks, not decades.”

In response, Justice Clarence Thomas said he found that argument curious.

“I am unaware,” Justice Thomas wrote, “of any support in the American constitutional tradition or in this court’s precedent for the proposition that a defendant can avail himself of the panoply of appellate and collateral procedures and then complain when his execution is delayed.”

Source: The New York Times, Adam Liptak, May 2, 2016


Supreme Court rejects death penalty case

The Supreme Court on Monday denied review of a case challenging the constitutionality of long-delayed death sentences.

The case centered on Richard Boyer, who was sentenced to death in California 32 years ago. Boyer had asked the court to weigh whether the delay in carrying out his sentence violated the Eight Amendment's protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

In dissenting from the court's majority decision to reject the case, Justice Stephen Breyer said the delays in Boyer's sentence were the result of a system that the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice had called "dysfunctional."

The commission released a report 8 years ago, Breyer said, which found that that more than 10 % of the capital sentences issued in California since 1978 had been reversed. Many prisoners had died of natural causes before their sentences were carried out and more California death row inmates had committed suicide than had been executed by the State.

"Put simply, California's costly 'administration of the death penalty' likely embodies three fundamental defects about which I have previously written: '(1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty's penological purpose.'" Breyer wrote in the order Monday. "For these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the denial of certiorari."

Source: thehill.com, May 2, 2016

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