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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

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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