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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 -…

Texas judge voices doubts on death penalty

Judge Elsa Alcala
Judge Elsa Alcala
A judge on the state’s highest criminal court, which has the last word on Texas death penalty cases, believes it’s time to reassess whether capital punishment should be allowed to continue in the nation’s most prolific state for executions.

Judge Elsa Alcala, a five-year member of the Court of Criminal Appeals, this week filed an opinion saying she has “great concern” over the way Texas implements the death penalty.

Death row inmates, the Republican judge wrote, have raised compelling arguments about falling support for the death penalty, noting that a majority of states now decline to execute inmates either by law or by practice — a change from 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions after a four-year hiatus based in part on support for executing convicted murderers shown by 36 states.

In addition, Alcala wrote, Texas courts should study whether the death penalty is unconstitutional because it is arbitrarily imposed by race, disproportionately affecting minorities, and whether excessive delays in imposing the ultimate sentence results in cruel and unusual punishment because inmates are held in solitary confinement for years, if not decades.

“I think there are, as I said in that opinion, significant problems with the death penalty,” Alcala told the American-Statesman. “There are lots of problems, and I think the public is not aware of the problems.”

“If you ask me how good is Texas at carrying out the death penalty, I am unconvinced,” Alcala said in an interview. “We see cases over and over again where 10, 20 years later you find problems,” including mistaken witness testimony, exonerations based on previously unavailable DNA tests and scientific advancements that call earlier expert testimony into question.


Source: My Statesman, Chuck Lindell, June 17, 2016

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