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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Supreme Court refuses to review death penalty over two justices' dissents

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused to hear a Louisiana prisoner's death penalty appeal Tuesday, but two of the eight justices said they would have taken the case to decide if capital punishment remains constitutional.

The one-paragraph order and two-page dissent solidified the battle lines at the court over what some justices consider their most difficult duty: deciding who lives and who dies.

That six justices, including liberals Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, denied convicted murderer Lamondre Tucker's petition shows that the court is not ready to reconsider its 1976 decision reinstating the death penalty.

But Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg reiterated their desire to consider its constitutionality, which they first voiced last June in a dissent from the court's 5-4 decision upholding a controversial form of lethal injection.

In the Louisiana case, Breyer noted that Tucker was barely older than the 18-year-old threshold to be eligible for the death penalty and had an IQ of 74, —just above the level to be considered intellectually disabled — when he shot and killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend in 2008. 

In addition, he was sentenced in Caddo Parrish, which renders a disproportionate percentage of the state's death sentences.

"Given these facts, Tucker may well have received the death penalty not because of the comparative egregiousness of his crime, but because of an arbitrary feature of his case, namely, geography," Breyer wrote.

He and Ginsburg said they would have agreed to hear the case for that reason and others cited in their June dissent. Those included the potential for mistakes, racial and other disparities, decades-long delays, and increasing numbers of states and counties abandoning capital punishment.

Source: USA Today, May 31, 2016

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