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Developments: Year 2002

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2002 developments:

bullet2002-FEB-4: USA: Justice Scalia criticizes Roman Catholic Church: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Roman Catholic, criticized his church's anti-death penalty stance at two public meetings. He notes that although the present pope is opposed to capital punishment, that the church itself has traditionally supported executions. He said: "No authority that I know of denies the 2,000-year-old tradition of the church approving capital punishment. I don't see why there's been a change." At a meeting In Chicago on JAN-25, Scalia said, "In my view, the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the death penalty." On FEB-4 in Georgetown, he commented that "any Catholic jurist [with such concerns] ... would have to resign. You couldn't function as a judge." 1
bullet2002-FEB-11: USA: Columbia University report on death penalty: A group of Columbia University law professors issued a report on the status of the death penalty in the U.S. This updates a report made in the year 2000, when they said that over 70% of death penalty cases between 1973 and 1995 were reversed because of errors made by judges, juries and prosecutors. Author James Liebman wrote: "It puts you at very high risk of having high error rates. It also puts you at high risk of sentencing people to death who will later turn out to be innocent." According to CNN.COM: "The report cites political and social pressures to expand the use of the death penalty by prosecutors, and notes that other factors can affect the outcome of capital cases, such as race, and the quality of local law enforcement agencies. Some of the report's recommendations are:
bulletThe burden of proof in capital be raised from beyond "reasonable doubt" to beyond "any doubt."
bulletThe death penalty should not be imposed on children.
bulletMentally ill criminals should not be executed.
bulletJudges should be required to inform juries that life without parole is an alternative to the death penalty.

The report concludes the "time is ripe to fix the death penalty, or if it can't be fixed, to end it." 2

bullet2002-MAR-25: NY: Voters prefer life without parole: Zogby International surveyed registered voters in Albany NY and the surrounding county. As expected, those polled preferred to retain capital punishment by a vote of 55% to 42%. But when asked about an alternative, 67% preferred sentencing convicted murderers to life imprisonment with no chance for parole vs. 27% who preferred the death penalty.
bullet2002-APR-22: AZ: Case might affect the death penalty across the U.S.: In Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska, juries decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty, but judges decide whether the death penalty is to be imposed. In Alabama, Delaware, and Florida, juries make sentencing recommendations but judges make the final decision. A jury found Timothy Ring guilty of murdering a guard during a robbery. After hearing additional evidence, the judge imposed the death penalty. Lawyers for Ring claim that the constitution allows trial by jury. Thus juries should decide whether to impose the death penalty. If Ring wins his case, some 800 inmates will have to be re-sentenced. 3
bullet2002-APR-25: NY: Judge ready to declare death penalty unconstitutional: Judge Jed Rakoff of the Manhattan Federal Court gave U.S. Justice Department lawyers until MAY-15 to argue whether retaining capital punishment "can constitutionally justify the knowing execution of innocent persons." The order is almost certain to be appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. 6
bullet2002-MAY-7: IL: Commission recommends changes to death penalty: Thomas Sullivan, a member of the Governor's commission on capital punishment suggested that spending the millions of dollars that would be needed to overhaul the state's death penalty system would be a "misuse of public funds." The Washington Times reported that the "commission studied the death penalty in the state for two years and recommended 85 changes to the state's capital punishment system to reduce the risk of executing an innocent person. Among the recommendations: reducing to five the current list of 20 circumstances that warrant execution." 4 They recommended that the death penalty not be applied to convictions which were based on the testimony of an accomplice, or a jailhouse informant, or a single witness. Governor Ryan has committed to enact most of the changes before he leaves office in 2003-JAN.
bullet2002-MAY-9: MD: Moratorium on executions established: Governor Parris Glendening announced a moratorium on the use of the death penalty until at least 2003-JAN, when his term ends. He was concerned whether racial discrimination was a major factor in the application of the death penalty. IN 2002-APR, "a commission appointed by Ryan recommended reforms to reduce the possibility of wrongful convictions, including cutting the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty and videotaping police interrogations." 5
bullet2002-MAY: USA: Legislative status: The Death Penalty Moratorium Act has been introduced into the Senate. An Innocence Protection Act has been introduced into both the House and Senate.
bullet2002-JUN-1: USA: Poll taken about death penalty for child murderers: Vote.com conducted a poll of Internet users to determine public opinion on whether juveniles should be excluded from the death penalty. After two days of polling, with 10,426 total votes cast, the results were:
bullet20% "Yes: People who are too young to vote, drink, or serve on a jury are clearly too young to face execution
bullet80% "No: Some crimes are so heinous that they deserve the strongest possible punishment. Age doesn't change that."
bullet2002-AUG-3: Turkey: Death penalty almost abolished: Turkey has made a giant stride towards becomnig the latest country to abolish the death penalty -- at least in peacetime. This is one of many reforms needed to prepare the country for its membership in the European Union. A bill was rushed through the Turkish parliament in order to complete the necessary reforms before political campaigning starts for a general election which will be held on NOV-3. Only ratification by the president is needed for the bill to become law. This is believed to be a formality. 7
bullet2002-AUG-14: Texas: State executed Mexican national: Javier Suarez, a Mexican, was executed for the murder of Lawrence Cadena, an undercover Dallas police officer, in a drug-bust gone bad. Although 1963 Vienna Convention of Consular Relations, which the United States has signed, guarantees that detained foreign nationals are allowed to contact their consulates for help, and that they must be informed of this provision, Suarez was apparently never informed of that right. A spokesperson for Amnesty International said "Unless Texas authorities halt this execution immediately, the United States will once again lose its credibility as a nation which respects its binding human rights obligations." The state department took no position on the matter. The U.S. Supreme Court took no action to prevent the execution. Mexico's president, Vincente Fox, may cancel a planned trip to Texas to meet with President Bush, as a protest.
bullet2002-OCT-15: Illinois: Mass clemency hearings begin: Hearings which will decide whether most of the 158 prisoners on death row should have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. "Experts on false confessions, torture, mental retardation and witness identification are being flown in from California, New Mexico and Texas. Some 300 lawyers have prepared briefs."  9
bullet2002-OCT-26: USA: Vote.com conducts poll on death penalty: Vote.com conducts regular polls among Internet surfers. On OCT-25, they asked people whether the Montgomery County sniper suspects, Muhammad and Malvo, should receive the death penalty if found guilty. Even though Malvo is a non-adult, 91% of the voters were in favor of execution; 9% were opposed. Total votes cast were 6,795 as of OCT-26 at 0700 hrs, ET.

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  1. Gina Holland, "Scalia Questions Church's Position," Associated Press, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com
  2. "Study challenges use of death penalty," CNN.com Law Center, 2002-FEB-11, at: http://europe.cnn.com/2002/LAW/02/10/
  3. Foster Klug, "Ariz. Case Could Affect Death Penalty," Washington Times, 2002-APR-21.
  4. Don Babwin, "Ill. Panel Urges End of Death Penalty," The Washington Times, 2002-MAY-7.
  5. Tom Stuckey, "Maryland 2nd State to Ban Executions," The Washington Times, 2002-MAY-10.
  6. "U.S. judge seeks to kill death penalty," Reuters, 2002-APR-25.
  7. "Turkey abolishes death penalty," Reuters News Agency. Published in The Hindu, at: http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/
  8. "Texas executes Mexican national," Associated Press, at: http://www.cnn.com/2002/LAW/08/14/
  9. Jodi Wilgoren, "Illinois moves to center of death penalty debate," New York Times, 2002-OCT-13.

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Copyright © 2002 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated 2002-OCT-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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