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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Attorneys for Dylann Roof file motion for new federal trial, attempt to throw out death penalty

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Attorneys for convicted Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof took aim at his death penalty in a motion for a new federal trial.

With a looming deadline, attorneys David Bruck, Kimberly Stevens and Emily Paavola filed the motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Charleston. It seeks to throw out Roof's death sentence in favor of life in prison without the possibility of release by targeting the charges eligible for capital punishment. 

Of Roof's 33 federal counts, 18 were eligible for the death penalty. He had previously offered to plead guilty in return for a life sentence. 

The attorneys raised two issues in the filing.

First, they argued that Roof's actions didn't constitute interstate commerce because the attack was planned and executed completely within South Carolina.

The attorneys also argued that two charges — hate crime and obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious belief — were not "crimes of violence" because "they do not require the use or threat of use of 'violent physical force.'"

"As we discussed in our motion to dismiss, because both offenses may be committed in ways that do not involve the use or threat of violent force they ... cannot support (death penalty) convictions," the document said.

Roof, a 22-year-old white supremacist, was sentenced to death in January for the June 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME that killed nine worshippers.

It could take years, however, for the death sentence to be carried out between complex and lengthy federal appeals process and a shortage of lethal drugs used in executions.

Legal proceedings, such as Friday's motion, could take months to be sorted out, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. 

The case could later move to the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where it could take months or even a year to reach oral arguments, followed by several more years of potential additional legal wrangling, Dunham said.

Roof faces another potential death sentence in his state trial, which does not yet have a start date. 

Source: The Post and Courier, Gregory Yee, February 10, 2017
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