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

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…

India: Poverty and the death row

Opposition to the death penalty is often rooted in arguments about its irreversibility, its essential cruelty, the possibility of error and the false sense of justice in doing unto convicted murderers what they had done to their victims. In the Indian context, politics surrounding the prisoners’ ethnic origin or linguistic affinity is often the basis for pleas for clemency. Rarely is a more compelling reason invoked: the possibility of an offender’s economic background, educational level, social status or religious identity working against his interests in legal proceedings. A report released on Friday by the National Law University, Delhi, on the working of the death penalty in India provides validation and proof for something that those familiar with administration of justice knew all along: that most of those sentenced to death in the country are poor and uneducated; and many belong to religious minorities. In addition, a revealing number is that as many as 241 out of 385 death row convicts were first-time offenders. Some may have been juveniles when they committed capital offences, but lacked the documentation to prove their age. Against the salutary principle that those too young and too old be spared the death sentence, 54 death row convicts whose age was available were between 18 and 21 at the time of the offence, and seven had crossed 60 years of age. An average prisoner awaiting execution is likely to be from a religious minority, a Dalit caste, a backward class, or from an economically vulnerable family, and is unlikely to have finished secondary schooling.

The late President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, had once said a study by his office into the background of convicts seeking mercy showed “a social and economic bias”. He digressed from his prepared text during a public lecture to ask, “Why are so many poor people on death row?” The link between socio-economic standing and access to competent legal counsel and effective representation is quite strong. A question of concern that arises is whether these statistics indicate systemic bias or institutionalised prejudice. It is not uncommon that legal grounds unavailable to the vulnerable are invoked in favour of the influential. A recent instance is that of four prisoners from a political party who were sentenced to death for burning a bus during a protest and killing three women students. The court, while commuting their sentence, invoked the ‘doctrine of diminished responsibility’ and reasoned that those gripped by mob frenzy were not fully cognisant of the situation around them. While invoking any ground to commute a death sentence to life is welcome, the impression is inescapable that such relief often comes at a very late stage and only to those with the means to pursue legal remedies till the very end. When a judicial system that is seen as favouring the influential resorts to capital punishment, it will be vulnerable to the charge of socio-economic bias. Law and society, therefore, will be better served if the death penalty itself is abolished. These statistics must reinforce the larger moral argument against the state taking the life of a human being — any human being — as punishment.

Source: The Hindu, Opinion, Editorial, May 9, 2016

On death row, dying many deaths

The human rights of prisoners in death row are grossly violated, shows Death Penalty India Report

"I left my sleeping child at home because the police called me to sign documents. I never got home after that," said Akira. She is among the 136 prisoners on death row who claimed to have not been informed of the reason for their arrest, a constitutional right.

To prepare the Death Penalty India Report, released on Friday, National Law University, Delhi, interviewed 373 of the 385 death row prisoners in India. The report does not talk about the innocence of these prisoners. But their stories highlight gross violations of human rights and the fallacies in the legal system. From not getting access to lawyers to being forced to confess to crimes, prisoners shared experiences of being a death row prisoner.

Month-long torture

Zaid, accused in a terror case, was detained in a mansion used by investigative agencies. He was tortured for over a month before a formal arrest was recorded. Mahmud, Zaid's co-accused, was severely beaten and electrocuted in the genitals. He was blindfolded during the entire duration of police custody except when he was given food.

Zaid recalled that Mahmud's skin would peel off as he removed his clothes. Finally, Zaid, Mahmud and other accused were acquitted by the Supreme Court. The court expressed anguish at the incompetence of the investigating agencies as these men had already spent 11 years in prison. A majority of the prisoners shared their experiences of custodial violence with the researchers. All this, when as per law, the police are supposed to take "reasonable care of the health and safety of an accused under custody." Rollers were pressed over Amarpreet's body when she was arrested. As a result, she suffered a miscarriage.

The report says that of the 92 prisoners who said they had confessed in police custody, 72 admitted to making statements under torture. Roshni said she was repeatedly tortured to confess. As she was tied to a chair and beaten up, she suffered a bone injury in her leg.

No hearing

As The Hindu reported on Friday, the structural loopholes in the administration of the death penalty denied many prisoners a fair trial. Ramrang never got a chance to speak with his lawyer. And so he was not asked a single question by the judge and was sentenced to death without getting any opportunity to defend himself. As he worries about his family, he remarked: "Be it the government, the police or the judge - no one heard our pleas." The report says harsh prison conditions and inhuman treatment of prisoners form an integral part of the punishment.

Hanut, who has served more than 12 years in prison, revealed that until 2010, there were no toilets in the prison. He was provided with a steel tub to relieve himself. "Give us punishment, but until then at least treat us like human beings," he said.

Sharing his experience of the violence, Javed said: "Just kill me. But don't inflict this repeated torture on me." An opportunity to pursue studies has great significance for reform. The Supreme Court has noted that a prisoner can be sentenced to death only if she is beyond reform. Moinuddin, however, was unable to continue his studies in prison. His repeated requests were rejected, for he was a prisoner sentenced to death.

(Names of prisoners have been changed by the researchers to maintain anonymity)

Source: The Hindu, May 8, 2016

Man gets death penalty for killing minor boy

A local court on Saturday awarded death sentence to one Manish Kumar alias Nepali Mandal (25) after finding him guilty of kidnapping and subsequently killing a 10-year-old boy on April 9, 2012. The court also slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 on Manish.

The judgement was delivered by the court of ADJ-V Jyoti Swaroop Shrivatava which termed the case as "rarest of rare". The court held Manish guilty of kidnapping the boy, committing unnatural sex with him, plucking his eyes and concealing the body after murder.

Additional public prosecutor (APP) Shushil Kumar Sinha said Manish had kidnapped Aditya Rajkamal, son of Raju Mandal, a resident of Jamalpur, in broad daylight with the help his 2 friends - Amit Jha and Manoj Kumar - who are still absconding.

"After abduction, the kidnappers demanded Rs 50,000 as ransom from the parents of Aditya for his safe release. They even allowed the boy to talk to his parents before killing him," said the APP.

The parents, instead of paying ransom to the kidnappers, brought the matter to the notice of the police. The police arrested Manish and recovered the body of Aditya Kumar from a drain.

The news of Aditya's murder spread like wildfire in Jamalpur and the entire town rose against the crime by holding protest rallies and demonstrations.

Source: Times of India, May 8, 2016

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Texas: With a man's execution days away, his victims react with fury or forgiveness

Texas executes Christopher Young

Ohio executes Robert Van Hook

Saudi Arabia executes seven people in one day

20 Minutes to Death: Record of the Last Execution in France

Ex-Aum member Yoshihiro Inoue’s last words: ‘I didn’t expect things to turn out this way’

Execution date pushed back for Texas 7 escapee after paperwork error on death warrant

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejects clemency for Chris Young

Ohio Governor commutes one sentence, delays another

Oklahoma: Death row inmate’s legal team hopes DNA testing on key piece of evidence will exonerate him before execution