March 26, 2007

Justice Department Seeks To Speed Up Executions

At a time when public support for capital punishment is declining even faster than President Bush’s popularity ratings, a study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice (N.I.J.), which is a branch of the Justice Department itself, has concluded that it takes far too long to carry out executions and that its time for the federal government to find ways to speed these executions up and make executions even more frequent.

This selective study completed by Professors Barry Latzer and James Cauthen at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York allegedly examined 1,676 death sentences in only 14 subjectively hand picked “representative” states involving only sentences imposed between 1992 and 2002. This N.I.J. study was intended to provide a federally sanctioned attack on an earlier comprehensive study done by Professor James Liebman of Columbia University, released in 2000, which concluded that the contemporary death penalty system is “fundamentally flawed.” In that study, Professor Liebman examined all death sentence capital cases from 1973 to 1995 and found that over 60% of all death sentences were overturned on appellate review.

In a desperate attempt to discredit that Liebman study, the present conservative controlled Justice Department attempts to manipulate the results of their own limited study. The N.I.J. study suggests that the Liebman study improperly examined all death sentences imposed since 1973 during a time that the U.S. Supreme Court was still rewriting applicable law governing death penalty cases, thereby resulting in a high rate of reversals. However, The N.I.J. study does not suggest that the Liebman study is inaccurate – it only suggests that by limiting reviews of capital cases to death sentences imposed from 1992 through 2002 the rate of reversals in only those 14 representative states are significantly less than the Liebman study suggests.

However, even in attempting to manipulate the results by selecting a much narrower pool of cases examined, the recent N.I.J. study still concedes that even in these hand picked “representative” cases, at least 26% of the death sentences imposed were subsequently overturned on appellate review, which means that even by this obviously biased study intended to promote faster and more frequent executions, these kill-em-all proponents concede that one out of every four people sentenced to death are wrongfully condemned.

Can you even imagine the trauma inflicted upon those wrongfully condemned to death -- the trauma they must endure because of that unjustified imposition of a sentence of death? See, “Bowels of the Beast: Condemned to a Fate Worse Than Death” at ( the conservative’s own study finds such an alarming rate of improperly imposed sentences of death, then how can any person of moral conscience still express support for the death penalty? Much less continue to advocate expediting executions – to push for faster and more frequent executions means even further limiting of appellate review, which will inevitably result in error not being corrected and innocent men executed.

The only too obvious true intent of this N.I.J. study is revealed in reading its expressed agenda – to find ways to speed up executions on the pretense that by not killing the condemned faster and more frequently, the victims families are traumatized and the states must bear the burden of millions of dollars in costs to unnecessarily house these condemned men and women while the pursue their appeals. But the study does not even mention the infliction of trauma on those one out of four men and women wrongly condemned to death, or their families.

Conveniently, this N.I.J. study does not mention that over 125 men and woman have been judicially exonerated and released from death rows across the country; after being found to have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death. Nor does it address the fact that the leading cause of wrongful convictions in capital cases is prosecutorial misconduct – in too many cases prosecutors have deliberately concealed evidence that if exposed would have proven the person’s innocence. See,
Condemning An Innocent Man.

By now pushing to expedite executions by even further limiting appellate review it is clearly a pathetically disingenuous attempt to accomplish the conservatives true agenda – further limiting appellate review would mean that substantially fewer wrongful capital convictions will be revealed; that even legitimate claims of actual innocence will be procedurally barred from appellate review. See, Blessings of Liberty in the Land of the Free.

These rabid conservatives are concerned that with the escalating rate of wrongful convictions exposed the public’s confidence in the judicial system will suffer – they would rather have the innocent victims of the ultimate miscarriage of justice murdered by the state, than allow the judicial system and its inherent fallibility to be increasingly exposed.

Additionally, the N.I.J. study fails to recognize that the leading cause of substantial delays in reaching finality in capital cases is the campaign of politically motivated interference with the process itself, which is a direct result of politicians passing one law after another in an attempt to circumvent review. The capital post conviction process itself has become inherently complex, requiring specialized lawyers and lengthy judicial review of complex questions that often revolve around the applicability of statutorily created procedural rules before actual claims of error can even be addressed. It is this insidious political interference as politicians all but openly compete with each other to promote “bills” to expedite executions that cause substantial delays. Adopting even more procedural rules under the pretense of promoting faster executions will, in fact, only slow the process down even further.

If the Justice Department really wants to objectively expedite the finality of capital convictions, then perhaps it’s time to impose restrictions on the politically motivated interference and tell those parasitic politicians systematically engaging in Machiavellian type plots to maliciously circumvent full and fair review to crawl back under their rocks and leave the system alone. Politics and justice do not mix.

Incredibly, even with the alarming rate of wrongful convictions and the unjustified imposition of death sentences subsequently reversed, the Justice Department has yet to commission a study to examine why this error rate is so high and what can be done to reduce making victims of those wrongly convicted and condemned.

Perhaps if the “Justice” Department was truly interested in promoting and preserving justice, it would commission a comprehensive study on the cause of this unconscionably high rate of wrongful capital convictions and find ways to prevent innocent men and women from being sent to death row in the first place, thus restoring the public confidence in the judicial system itself. Certainly there must be someone within the Justice Department to realize that by disingenuously finding ways to cover up wrongful convictions, inevitably the public’s confidence will suffer even more than by simply admitting the present system’s imperfections and constructively trying to find ways to minimize the improper imposition of death sentences in the first place.

The bottom line is that the death penalty is about politicians, not justice. The primary reason that the death penalty continues to be practiced in this country is because politicians exploit it to win votes. Politicians shamelessly exploit the trauma inflicted upon the families of victims under the pretense of pursuing justice knowing full well that if they were truly interested in sparing the victim’s families prolonged trauma and instill a sense of finality in a timely manner, they would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a life sentence with no possibility of parole – as many states that do not have the death penalty already have done. The victim’s families have already suffered an immeasurable trauma – they deserve the expedited finality only abolishing the death penalty can provide, not being dragged through the courts for years reliving that trauma.

But if we truly do want to debate the inherent fundamental flaws within the present death penalty system; then let’s start by looking at the alarming rate of wrongful convictions as illustrated in “Southern Injustice: Exposing the New Face of Bigotry and Injustice in The South” at (, and take an even closer look at the leading cause for their unconscionably high rate of wrongful capital convictions – politically ambitious prosecutors manipulating the judicial system to unethically win at any cost must be held accountable, especially prosecutors who have a history of repeatedly violating laws to wrongfully convict and condemn innocent men for no other reason but to promote their own political ambitions. See, Prosecutorial Misconduct: Does Immunity Invite Injustice? and "The Anatomy of A Corrupt Prosecutor".

If the Justice Department wants to actually promote justice, then they should look at and find constructive solutions to actually prevent miscarriages of justice, not use taxpayer money in a desperate attempt to manipulate the system in an obvious and insidious attempt to circumvent the judicial review necessary to exposed the innocence of those being victimized by the ultimate miscarriage of justice. Finding ways to execute innocent men and women before they can prove their innocence is not justice – expediting review in capital cases will only result in innocent men and women being executed -- and in our society, even the possibility of that inevitable result – should be intolerable.