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U.S. District Court Rules Federal Execution Law Unconstitutional

By 90X Double Side in Op-Ed
Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 05:58:47 AM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

U.S. Federal District Judge Rakoff has confirmed his preliminary ruling that a 1994 law on federal executions is unconstitutional. Findlaw has PDFs of today’s ruling and the preliminary ruling. The AP story is available at CNN, among dozens of other news sites.

The decision is expected to be overturned because of its complete departure from previous court rulings, but it does bring up a new issue to attack executions on: not finding them as cruel and unusual punishment but instead as a violation of rights of due process.

The judge stated:

“In brief, the Court found that the best available evidence indicates that, on the one hand, innocent people are sentenced to death with materially greater frequency than was previously supposed and that, on the other hand, convincing proof of their innocence often does not emerge until long after their convictions. It is therefore fully foreseeable that in enforcing the death penalty a meaningful number of innocent people will be executed who otherwise would eventually be able to prove their innocence. It follows that implementation of the Federal Death Penalty Act not only deprives innocent people of a significant opportunity to prove their innocence, and thereby violates procedural due process, but also creates an undue risk of executing innocent people, and thereby violates substantive due process.”

Judge Rakoff argues a change from the ’93 Supreme Court ruling upholding executions is called for because of the advent of DNA evidence, which has shown many condemned persons to be innocent:

“What DNA testing has proved, beyond cavil, is the remarkable degree of fallibility in the basic fact-finding processes on which we rely in criminal cases. In each of the 12 cases of DNA-exoneration of death row inmates referenced in Quinones, the defendant had been found guilty by a unanimous jury that concluded there was proof of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; and in each of the 12 cases the conviction had been affirmed on appeal, and collateral challenges rejected, by numerous courts that had carefully scrutinized the evidence and the manner of conviction. Yet, for all this alleged ‘due process,’ the result, in each and every one of these cases, was the conviction of an innocent person who, because of the death penalty, would shortly have been executed (some came within days of being so) were it not for the fortuitous development of a new scientific technique that happened to be applicable to their particular cases.”

The ruling has been accused as a case of judicial legislation, mostly because it had the ill fate of coming so soon after the pledge of allegiance ruling, but despite its timing it might lead to a legislative measure on executions, and there is of course a change that the new evidence will lead to the ruling being upheld.

It should be noted that the decision will only effect federal executions, even though all evidence regarding executions were based on state executions since federal executions are so rare. In any event, the decision has reignited debate on this issue, which has been raging in America for over a century, not to mention the worldwide debate, with many human rights organizations seeing the allowance of executions as a blemish on a human rights record that has been comparatively quite good. And since the U.S is the most influential of the free countries that allow executions (being Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Chile, Dominica, El Salvador, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, India, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nauru, Paupa New Guinea, Peru, Phillipines, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Samoa, South Korea, Suriname, Thailand, and the United States), any change in America's policy could have a huge effect on worldwide acceptance of executions.


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U.S. District Court Rules Federal Execution Law Unconstitutional | 37 comments (31 topical, 6 editorial, 1 hidden)
Nitpick (5.00 / 2) (#1)
by strlen on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 09:15:27 PM EST

Israel has only officially (as in after a trial, etc..) executed only one man, Eichman, and thats the only types that the Israeli death penalty is intended towards. You can safely put Israel (along with a couple of other countries, like Bahrain for instance) in the list of defacto-abolitionist countries. Now of course, it can be argued that the assasinations performed on leaders of terrorist organizations count as executions as well.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
True (4.50 / 2) (#5)
by 90X Double Side on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 10:34:04 PM EST

If you go to http://web.amnesty.org/rmp/dplibrary.nsf/index?openview and click the Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries link, you can see to what degree the various countries allow executions. Israel falls into the "Abolitionist for ordinary crimes only" category. The list I gave includes countries that have the death penalty as law for any crime.

“Reality is just a convenient measure of complexity”
—Alvy Ray Smith
[ Parent ]
What, one man? (3.33 / 3) (#15)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 11:28:52 PM EST

As opposed to simply slapping a rocket into his car or office?


[ Parent ]
Yes (none / 0) (#16)
by strlen on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 11:49:55 PM EST

Yes, one man was actually executed using formal procedures, with a trial etc.. Assasination and execution is quite different from each other. Many countries which banned death penalty have used asassination. And US isn't immune from assasination either.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
No, but fortunately the US always seems to miss... (none / 0) (#17)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 11:54:35 PM EST

Tragic that that's the best I can say about it, though.


[ Parent ]
and shooting teenagers n/t (3.00 / 3) (#21)
by turmeric on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 07:31:53 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Eventual removal of several countries (5.00 / 2) (#25)
by thebrix on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 12:17:36 PM EST

An issue which has been rattling around is that, if a Commonwealth country passes a death sentence, the Privy Council in London is the court of last resort.

It has been increasingly blocking executions and, given general disquiet, that block is likely to become permanent. (I presume the Commonwealth would get together and agree the abolition, then the Queen would instruct her representative in each country, typically a Governor General, to negotiate the abolition with that country's government. The monarch is not powerless!)

[ Parent ]

Cool America (1.42 / 7) (#4)
by _cbj on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 09:27:04 PM EST

About that last part, I don't think those other countries are executing people just to be Usian-cool, as if they were buying Madonna or Addidas. I also don't think that Usia being forced to stop executing by the caprice of their own laws would suddenly cause non-executing to become an inalienable part of their innate Free and Good and Happyness, like Madonna or Addidas, something worth threatening dissenting countries with trade sanctions or axis-of-evilisation over.

Re: Cool America (5.00 / 4) (#8)
by 90X Double Side on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 10:50:10 PM EST

I agree that the change would be much more impactful if it were legislative and not judicial, but if executions are permenantly outlawed in America by any means it will change the situation dramatically.

At that point the only big, free powers practicing executions for ordinary crimes would be Japan and India. There is a huge influence difference between saying, "We practice the death penalty, but so do the US, Japan, and India," and just having Japan and India. And if Japan and India were to abolish executions as well, the world might start looking down on any remaining country that practiced executions as barbaric.

Since you would basically have all of NATO, Japan and Australia not practicing it, this basically means the average member of any western society would never be exposed to it as a reasonable action, and this would result in a much stronger movement to abolish executions worldwide. I don't think there is any chance that there would be trade sanctions, since we already know you can kill and torture millions of people and not get trade sanctions, but the sentiment against executions would be much stronger, and the groups opposing it would have more bite. This is all hypothetical, of course.

“Reality is just a convenient measure of complexity”
—Alvy Ray Smith
[ Parent ]

Seems almost chemically optimistic to me (n/t) (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by _cbj on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 11:11:27 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Optimistic, but not improbable. (5.00 / 2) (#14)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 11:26:32 PM EST

It does get us one step closer to being able to say "if you guys wanna play with the grown ups, you gotta play by the grown up rules. Civil rights and all the rest."

Now if only someone would apply a dope slap to the back of GWB's head and shut down Camp X-Ray (or at least implement some sort of judicial review PDQ.


[ Parent ]
India (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by zhermit on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 02:48:47 PM EST

I wouldn't really call India a first World or Western country. They are the world's largest democracy, but they are not in the same...league, so to speak, as Japan, or Europe or the US.

I have a sig?
[ Parent ]
Adidas is a multinational of German origin. (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by Ranieri on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 05:52:06 AM EST

What you are looking for is "Nike".
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!
[ Parent ]
Usia? (none / 0) (#32)
by vectro on Thu Jul 04, 2002 at 01:47:49 PM EST

is that near Eurasia?

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
A synonym for "United States of America" (none / 0) (#33)
by _cbj on Thu Jul 04, 2002 at 02:10:01 PM EST

More useful, lends itself to adjectives better than any other mooted variation.

[ Parent ]
It is not more useful. (none / 0) (#34)
by vectro on Thu Jul 04, 2002 at 02:24:28 PM EST

It's ugly, and should be pronounced as Asia.

"The US" and "characteristic of the US" work just fine; there's no reason to make up words.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

It's lots more useful (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by _cbj on Thu Jul 04, 2002 at 05:07:40 PM EST

US spawned the only pertinent adjective 'Usian,' from whence the back-formation Usia. May as well be consistent and drop 'US' entirely, especially as it's only the word 'us,' shouted. America/American are ambiguous and United States/United Statesian are unwieldy. So Usia/Usian it is. If you can think of a better alternative it's obviously not too late to popularise it.

[ Parent ]
The US vs. us (none / 0) (#36)
by vectro on Thu Jul 04, 2002 at 05:29:22 PM EST

"US" works fine to refer to the US. The only cases where it's ambiguous with respect to the pronoun "us" is when it is (incorrectly) used without an article: "The responsibility for this goes to US". When (correctly) used with an article, however, there is no ambiguity. In English the abbreviation US will always carry an article, whereas the pronoun us will never carry an article. And if the ambiguity really bothers you, use USA.

Either choice is much better than USia, which is ugly, has no clear pronunciation (prounce in similarity to Asia?) and fails to respect the usage of those who actually live in the country in question.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

For the umpteenth time... (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by _cbj on Thu Jul 04, 2002 at 05:45:04 PM EST

You haven't suggested an alternative adjective.  I like that to match the noun, so Usian/Usia.  'USA' is an improvement on 'US,' but only barely.  

'Usia' is, as you unintentionally admit, no more ugly then the well-established 'Asia'.  Pronounce it however you want, you're hardly likely to encounter it aurally in the near future.  

[ Parent ]

Solution to Death Penalty (4.76 / 13) (#9)
by leviramsey on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 10:52:23 PM EST

If you're a prosecutor who is found to have withheld evidence that could exonerate, or a judge who blocked evidence that could exonerate, you have a date with Mr. Sparky.

Great. (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by Ranieri on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 05:53:27 AM EST

Kill more people, because killing people is wrong.
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!
[ Parent ]
Historical precedent for this (5.00 / 2) (#22)
by jolly st nick on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 09:15:14 AM EST

This is not so far fetched as you might think. One feature of Roman jurisprudence was that if you accused somebody falsely of a crime, you would be subject to the penalty that crime carried. This was one reason that the persecutions against Christians tended to peter out; if you accused somebody of being a christian and he poured the required libation to the emperor, then technically speaking it was off to the lions for you. It was only the most fanatical of Christians that got executed.

I am not a lawyer, but I'm not sure you need to introduce any new legal principles to punish people who knowingly allow wrongful executions. If a prisoner is executed wrongly as a result of a some officer of the court witholding exonerating evidence, is this not a form a premeditated judicial murder? Why should this be treated as merely a breech of professional ethics, when the result of suppressing exonerating data to advance your career is no different than walking up to an innocent person and shooting him for his money.

[ Parent ]

exactly (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by ethereal on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 09:40:05 AM EST

In fact, I think this was the plot of a Law & Order episode I saw recently - a fingerprint technician had been making identifications that consistently favored the prosecution in cases where the evidence was inconclusive, someone who was sent to prison on such evidence died there, and the technician was eventually convicted of murder/manslaughter. It was an interesting case.


Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

In other news today: (2.16 / 18) (#12)
by kwsNI on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 11:15:20 PM EST

The Supreme Court today struck down the US Constitution as unconstitutional.

Interesting (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by X3nocide on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 05:50:14 PM EST

I wonder how this relates to the crime of Treason

[ Parent ]
Treason is unconstitutional too. (none / 0) (#30)
by kwsNI on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 06:01:53 PM EST

Seriously, it was a joke. People here are taking themselves way too seriously lately.

[ Parent ]
Bravo. (4.50 / 4) (#13)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 11:15:37 PM EST

Best news I've heard in weeks.


Wait, isn't that verdict (none / 0) (#26)
by Rogerborg on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 02:04:58 PM EST

Clear evidence of Treason?

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs

U.S. District Court Rules Federal Execution Law Unconstitutional | 37 comments (31 topical, 6 editorial, 1 hidden)
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