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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 -…

Dylann Roof’s Attorneys Argue Death Penalty Clashes With Religious Freedoms Of Prospective Jurors

The parking lot behind the AME Emanuel Church, Charleston.
The parking lot behind the AME Emanuel Church, Charleston.
Attorneys for the accused Charleston church shooter argue that forcing potential jurors to say they would impose the death penalty violates their religious freedoms.

Attorneys for the man accused of killing nine black members of a historic South Carolina church expanded their argument opposing the death penalty on Monday, asserting it violates the religious freedoms of prospective jurors.

The attorneys for Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof argue that asking potential jurors to state they are capable of imposing a death sentence “cannot be justified as having a legitimate secular purpose when it functions to skew the jury in favor of conviction” and encourages judges and prosecutors “to interrogate private citizens about their religious beliefs.”

The court filing was an answer to the government’s argument against Roof’s motion to strike the death penalty as a possible punishment in the federal case, which is set to start jury selection this month.

Religious freedoms are also inhibited, Roof’s attorneys added, because potential people are forced to choose between jury service and “adherence to their most closely-held religious, spiritual, and moral values.”

Prosecutors for the government argue that the so-called process of “death qualifying” jurors isn’t religious discrimination because it’s the same if you oppose the death penalty for religious reasons or non-religious ones.

“A prospective juror’s religion or religious beliefs do not potentially disqualify the juror from service; only his inability to apply the law does so,” prosecutors have argued.

Roof’s attorneys are also arguing that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional. They also noted that their challenge is only being brought because the government rejected his offer to plead guilty and accept a punishment of multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Jury selection in Roof’s federal trial is scheduled to begin later this month, with 3,000 Charleston-area residents slated to participate in the process.

Source: BuzzFeed, Mike Hayes, Sept. 13, 2016

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