Death Penalty, Luxury Prisons, & False Convictions - The Point

 

Should the United States end the death penalty? How many false convictions come from eyewitness testimony, police lineups, and even DNA evidence? Finally, what can we learn from Norway's "permissive" prisons? Steve Oh (former prosecutor, and executive producer of The Point) leads this weeks panel to discuss these issues and more with Mike Farrell (actor/activist/writer, and president, Death Penalty Focus), Steve Ipsen (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney), and Celeste Fremon (WitnessLA creator and editor, and author of G-Dog and the Homeboys). Special thanks to Barry Scheck (co-founder/Co-Director of the Innocence Project), and Brandon L. Garrett (professor at the University of Virginia School of Law) for sending in points.

Death Penalty, Luxury Prisons, & False Convictions - The Point

 

Should the United States end the death penalty? How many false convictions come from eyewitness testimony, police lineups, and even DNA evidence? Finally, what can we learn from Norway's "permissive" prisons? Steve Oh (former prosecutor, and executive producer of The Point) leads this weeks panel to discuss these issues and more with Mike Farrell (actor/activist/writer, and president, Death Penalty Focus), Steve Ipsen (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney), and Celeste Fremon (WitnessLA creator and editor, and author of G-Dog and the Homeboys). Special thanks to Barry Scheck (co-founder/Co-Director of the Innocence Project), and Brandon L. Garrett (professor at the University of Virginia School of Law) for sending in points.

Does your race and income matter if you face the death penalty?

From the Restore Fairness blog.

It is no secret that the country’s criminal justice system has consistently proven to be biased against minority communities of color. Statistics published by the NAACP show that even amongst those found guilty of crimes, African-Americans continue to be disproportionately sentenced to life in prison, face higher drug sentences, and are executed at higher rates when compared to people of other races. Michelle Alexander speaks of a “color-coded caste system” in The New Jim Crow that marginalized communities who encounter the criminal justice system.

Seasoned Texas attorney David R. Dow’s new book The Autobiography of an Execution provides an exploration of the death penalty, written through the eyes of a man who has spent 20 years defending over a hundred death-row inmates, most of whom died, and most of whom were guilty. As the head litigator for the Texas Defender Service, a non profit legal aid organization in the state that boasts the highest number of executions since 1976, Dow presents a powerful argument against the death penalty system. Candidly exploring how he balances such a trying job with being a good father and husband, Dow’s extremely personal book only works to strengthen the argument that the broken criminal justice system operates on a vicious cycle based on racial and economic disparity.

In his book, Dow opposes the unequal basis on which some criminals are sentenced to be executed while others aren’t, and deems the criminal justice system “racist, classist (and) unprincipled.” He opposes the death penalty as a flawed and unjust facet of the criminal justice system. Based on his experience, he notes that while he believes that a majority of the clients he represented were, in fact, guilty, there was very little separating those criminals from others who were guilty of the same crime, other than “the operation of what I consider to be insidious types of prejudice.” Most unsettling is his severe mistrust of members of the justice system – police officers, prosecutors and judges – whom he believes would “violate their oaths of office” and put men and women on death row who they think “deserve to be there”.

In Dow’s exploration of the politics behind the death penalty, perhaps the most tenacious argument against it is the blatant way that the intersections of race and class influence the outcome of a criminal case. Dow says,

…if you’re going to commit murder, you want to be white, and you want to be wealthy — so that you can hire a first-class lawyer — and you want to kill a black person. And if [you are], the odds of your being sentenced to death are basically zero…It’s one thing to say that rich people should be able to drive Ferraris and poor people should have to take the bus. It’s very different to say that rich people should get treated one way by the state’s criminal-justice system and poor people should get treated another way. But that is the system that we have.

Dow’s book reflects all that is wrong with a social system that perpetuates inequality based on race and income, and a criminal justice system that feeds off prejudice in its sentencing and prosecution methods. More than ever, a lot needs to be done to ensure that the criminal justice system functions on the principles of “fairness” that are implicit in its definition, and not those of difference and persecution. Photo courtesy of chicagotribune.com

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

TX Gov: Rick Perry Covering Up Execution of Innocent Man in 2004

A little less than a month ago the New Yorker published a major piece making a strong case that the state of Texas executed an indisputably innocent man in 2004.

Cameron Todd Willingham was killed by the state for killing his children in a fire. Yet the best scientific analysis conclusively establishes that the fire was accidental and not caused by arson.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, going into a heated primary campaign against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, has now suddenly and summarily replaced three board members of the state agency investigating the controversial 2004 execution, indefinitely postponing a hearing into the case. The Burnt Orange Report has excellent coverage here and here.

The conservative editorial board of the Dallas Morning News outlines the case in very stark terms:

Gov. Rick Perry looks like a desperate man with his decision to jettison the chairman of the state's forensic science panel.

The panel's post-mortem look at the Cameron Todd Willingham arson-murder case goes to the heart of Texas justice - including the governor's role in it - and whether an innocent man was railroaded into the death chamber at Huntsville.

Since Perry signed off on the Willingham execution in 2004, his own accountability is at stake. So perhaps it's no surprise that two days before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was to proceed with the case this week, Perry replaced the chairman and set things back.

Glenn Smith argues that Perry is in violation of federal law:

He may have violated federal law,  U.S.C. 18.1001. This is no trivial matter. An innocent man was executed. Federal laws and guidelines are in place to keep that from happening. Perry may well have violated those laws and guidelines, for which there are criminal penalties.

Media Matters sums it up:

This is all, at the very least, quite fishy. It's also potentially earth-shaking -- never before has it been conclusively determined that someone in this country was wrongfully put to death. If Cameron Todd Willingham's innocence can be proven, it would upend the entire rationale behind our system of capital punishment. And yet there hasn't been a whole lot of media coverage - a Nexis search of all news sources for the past two days for (cameron w/2 willingham and perry) turned up seven results.

This could be the beginning of the end for not only one of the most reactionary governors in the country but for the death penalty itself.

There's more...

Wrongful Convictions Are Still Possible in New Mexico

This week, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed legislation repealing the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Governor Richardson based his decision on a lack of "confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates" and the very real possibility of wrongfully convicting and executing an innocent person. By repealing the death penalty, Governor Richardson's action this week eliminates the risk of New Mexico ever executing an innocent person. Governor Richardson should be commended for taking this action.

The question now is whether Governor Richardson will take the necessary steps to eliminate the causes that lead to wrongful convictions. While I agree that life without parole gives New Mexico the opportunity to correct mistakes when wrongful convictions occur, I am concerned about the very real risk that innocent people will be wrongfully convicted and now sentenced to life without parole in New Mexico.

I commend Governor Richardson for his recognition that New Mexico's criminal justice system is "inherently defective." The Governor recognizes the systemic problems that have led to wrongful convictions in New Mexico stating, "[e]vidence, including DNA evidence, can be manipulated. Prosecutors can still abuse their powers. We cannot ensure competent defense counsel for all defendants." Repealing the death penalty can prevent these systemic problems from leading to the execution of an innocent person. The next step is to prevent these errors from happening and sending an innocent person to prison.

There's more...

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