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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 -…

Attorneys argue Indiana death penalty unconstitutional

Indiana's death chamber
Indiana's death chamber
Attorneys for a man who faces charges in the deaths of 7 women have argued in court filings that the state of Indiana's death penalty law is unconstitutional.

The Post-Tribune reports that Darren Vann remains in isolation at the Lake County jail. His attorneys argued in an Aug. 5 filing that an Indiana Code statute is unconstitutional in 2 main areas.

They question how a jury is supposed to weigh factors that could influence a death sentence. They also say it's unconstitutional to allow a judge to determine a defendant's death sentence when the jury can't.

Government prosecutors have until Sept. 7 to file a response to the claim.

Lake County prosecutors requested the death penalty for Vann last year.

Lake County prosecutors requested the death penalty for Vann last year. He faces charges in connection with the deaths of Anith Jones 35, of Merrillville; Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Chicago; Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary; Tracy Martin, 41, of Gary; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya Billingsley, 52, of Gary; and Tanya Gatlin, 27, of Highland.

If convicted, he could join 13 other people on death row in Indiana.

Kevin Charles Isom, the other man facing the death penalty in Lake County, also questioned the factors a jury is supposed to weigh before sentencing someone to death. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled against him in 2015.

The constitutionality of capital punishment is an issue the country has grappled with for decades as states have altered their death penalty laws.

"Pieces of things in the statute have been pulled off and changed (in Indiana)," said Andrea Lyon, dean of Valparaiso University Law School. "But Indiana Supreme Court and, thus far, any other federal court has not said that Indiana, generally, has been unconstitutional."

Delaware's highest court ruled its state's death penalty law was unconstitutional less than two weeks ago. It said it gave judges too large of a role over juries in imposing death sentences.

Vann's attorneys say in the motion that the situations in Delaware and Indiana are similar.

Source: Associated Press, August 21, 2016

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