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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 -…

AFP helps death penalty nations as Australia campaigns for end to death penalty as part of UN bid

Australia continues to assist in international prosecutions where the death penalty is an option, while underpinning its bid for a seat on the United Nation's Human Rights Council with a call to abolish capital punishment worldwide.

Newly released figures, obtained through freedom of information laws, show the Australian Federal Police have assisted in nearly 130 foreign investigations involving more than 400 people since 2015, where a successful prosecution could potentially lead to a death sentence.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop lobbied for Australia's election to the Human Rights Council for the 2018-20 term in New York this week, and has stated the worldwide abolition of the death penalty is one of Australia's goals.

But the AFP continues to assist foreign investigations where the death penalty could be handed down, refusing to co-operate in only nine of 129 cases it has been asked for information.

AFP approval rates for international assistance, mostly involving drug crime, have been steady since 2010. In 2015, 92 per cent of requests were, rising to 96 per cent in 2016. No other information, such as the countries requesting the information, or the cases involved, was given.

Australia has used its opposition to the death penalty – and a call for a global abolition of the punitive measure used in nearly 60 countries – as a key argument for its inclusion on the UN Human Rights Council.

But this year, the government quietly rejected recommendations from a parliamentary committee which would have banned the AFP from sharing drug crime information with other countries unless provided with assurances the death penalty would not be applied, prompting fears of a repeat of the Bali nine heroin plot which saw Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran executed after tip-offs to Indonesian authorities.

The committee recommended ministerial approval be required for "high-risk" cases and the AFP refuse co-operation on drug trafficking cases unless assurances that the death penalty would not be sought, both of which were rejected by the government.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's department said the government "has and will continue to seek suitable assurances in appropriate cases where it is clear that the death penalty is likely to be imposed".

But Emily Howie of the Human Rights Law Centre said Australia was sending mixed messages.

"Global abolition of the death penalty is meant to be a core objective of Australia's Human Rights Council bid," she said.

"But whilst the Foreign Minister spouts the right language to delegates in New York, the reality is that every week the AFP continues to share information that puts peoples' lives at risk. If Australia really opposes the death penalty, it must do so not just through the speeches of our ministers but through the actions of all Australian departments and agencies.

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Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Amy Remeikis, Tom McIlroy, May 21, 2017

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