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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 -…

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Two Major Death Penalty Cases

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two cases raising major questions about the death penalty, including whether executing a condemned inmate more than 35 years after he was sentenced to death violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

That case, Moore v. Texas, No. 15-797, concerns Bobby J. Moore, who has been on death row since 1980 for shooting and killing an elderly Houston supermarket clerk, James McCarble, during a robbery. 

Mr. Moore’s case also raises questions about whether Texas uses outdated standards in assessing whether a defendant’s intellectual disability was severe enough to bar his execution.

The second case, Buck v. Stephens, No. 15-8049, concerns the role race may play in capital sentencing. 

Duane Buck was convicted of the 1995 murders of a former girlfriend and another man. Texas law allows death sentences only if prosecutors can show the defendant poses a future danger to society.

During the trial’s sentencing phase, Mr. Buck’s lawyer presented testimony from a psychologist who said that race is one of the factors associated with future dangerousness. I

n their petition seeking Supreme Court review, Mr. Buck’s new lawyers said his trial lawyer had been ineffective and that Mr. Buck’s death sentence was infected by racial bias.

Source: The New York Times, Adam Liptak, June 6, 2016

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