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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 -…

Death penalty chaos around the country

Nevada just became the ninth death penalty state to go a decade or more without an execution. Add those nine to the 19 states without capital punishment, and you have 28 states that have abandoned executions in either law or practice.

And in the remaining states? The death penalty is in complete chaos.

Florida’s death penalty law has already been thrown out twice in 2016. The first ruling came from the U.S. Supreme Court in January. The Florida legislature then passed a “fix” to the law, and last month a Miami judge threw it out again. Alabama’s death penalty law is similar to Florida’s, and the Supreme Court sent a death sentence back for review for the third time this week because of those similarities.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Georgia have come under fire for illegally keeping African Americans off the jury in a death penalty case. The Supreme Court overturned the sentence with a vote of 7-1. The defendant is one of many black men sentenced to die by an all-white jury across the south.

Lethal injection debacles continue as states struggle to find drugs, hide their processes in secrecy, or carry out executions with outright “systemic ineptitude.”

Oklahoma is back at the heart of the lethal injection controversy. A grand jury released 106 pages of scathing critiques last month, citing “inexcusable failures” in the state’s execution process. According to the Washington Post, the grand jury:

“…paints these officials as careless and, in some cases, reckless. The missteps described by the grand jury include a pharmacist ordering the wrong drug for executions, multiple state employees failing to notice or tell anyone about the mixup and a high-ranking official in the governor’s office urging others to carry out an execution even with the incorrect drug.”

The same secrecy and lack of oversight found in Oklahoma is common in other states, too, and has contributed to execution problems in Missouri, Georgia, and Ohio.

And now Pfizer, the last remaining, FDA-approved supplier of lethal injection drugs, declared it no longer wants to be in the execution business. Pfizer announced sweeping new restrictions on the distribution of some if its drugs, preventing them from being used in executions.

The last death penalty holdouts show that the only way to have a death penalty is to accept bias, ineptitude, and arbitrariness. It’s only a matter of time before the death penalty is gone for good.

Source: Equal Justice USA, Sarah Craft, June 7, 2016

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