A new study by Duke University indicates that North Carolina could save eleven million dollars a year by abolishing the death penalty. The study likely underestimates the true savings of ending capital punishment, because it considers only savings in defense and incarceration costs. The study does not have data on how much prosecutors would save if all first-degree murder cases proceeded non-capitally. (However, it is known that a death penalty trial costs the defense ten times as much as a non-capital trial. More often than not, the result of the two trials is the same – life without the possibility of parole.)
The odds of a murderer getting the death penalty in North Carolina are less than 1%, and no one has been executed here since 2006, yet the State continues to pour millions of dollars into pursuing capital punishment.
Two states, New Jersey and New Mexico, have abolished the death penalty in recent years, citing cost as one of the primary reasons for that decision.
The conviction and death sentence of North Carolina death row inmate Davy Stephens has been upheld by the Fourth Circuit. Apparently they didn’t think there was anything fishy about Stephens’ lawyer not telling him that he also happened to represent the law enforcement agency which investigated the case. The lawyer also neglected to mention that through that representation, he knew that a member of the Sheriff’s Office had destroyed files related to Stephens’ case. Not a conflict of interest at all, no sir.
(This post is an expanded and modified version of last week’s post. Thanks to everyone at BlueNC for their help. Further additions are welcome.)
With an important primary just a week away, here’s a look at how the contenders feel about capital punishment.
In the Democratic NC gubernatorial debate, both candidates said that they support the death penalty if it is applied fairly. Beverly Perdue, unlike Richard Moore, supports a moratorium and further study of the issue. Moore has stated that he “believe[s] that there is Biblical evil that lives among us, and for some crimes you give up the right to be here on Earth with the rest of us.” (source) Perdue has said that she “support[s] capital punishment as an option, but…also favor[s] the current moratorium [then] in place while constitutional issues are being studied.” (source)
According to a questionnaire by the Progressive Democrats, all three Democratic candidates for Lieutenant Governor support a moratorium. Dan Besse advocates a moratorium due to concerns about racial bias and the risk of executing an innocent person. He supports a study into how to make sure that the death penalty is applied fairly and consistently. Hampton Dellinger is concerned that there are effectively two death rows in North Carolina – one containing inmates sentenced before reforms, and one containing those sentenced after. (These reforms include the guarantee of qualified counsel and the assistance of experts in capital cases.) Dellinger believes that no one from the ‘old’ death row should be executed until it has been determined that they would have received the same sentence under the ‘new’ rules. Pat Smathers supports a moratorium due to concern about inmates who were represented by unqualified counsel and affected by racial bias. He believes that the question of abolition should be decided by referendum.
In the Iredell and Alexander County district attorney race, all three candidates have made clear that they plan to aggressively seek the death penalty.
Meanwhile, Durham County district attorney candidate Mitch Garrell has declared his opposition to capital punishment.
1. Keeping a human being caged until natural death is far greater punishment than killing that person.
2. It cannot be undone in the event of a prosecutional mistake, or misdeed (HAS HAPPENED).
3. The death penalty, as it has been applied in the United States, has been open to far too many mistakes, unequally executed, cruel and unusual, and has almost no sense of Justice to it.
If, in our deepest conscience, we believed, as a country, that the Death penalty was Good and Just, we would not carry it out in such discreet privacy. We would be executing people in public forums.
Killing another human being is a dark deed, even when sacntioned by the State.
I would like to think we had grown beyond our darkest instincts. Collective, or institutional revenge is still revenge….and that has nothering to do with justice.
Robin Anderson, who is running for Commissioner of Labor and would serve on the Council of State (which is charged with approving any death penalty protocol), supports abolishing the death penalty, but believes it is the job of the legislature to do so. She previously represented a death row inmate on appeal. (her website)
Finally, Presidential candidate Barack Obama supports the death penalty only in cases “so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment.” He was also instrumental in pushing for criminal justice reforms in Illinois, including the mandatory taping of interrogations and confessions (which just became law in North Carolina this year).
News Update 04.25.08
In Watauga County, Neil Sargeant has been sentenced to life without parole for the 2005 murder of Appalachian State student Stephen William Harrington. Harrington was bound, suffocated, and set on fire as part of what may have been a drug-related assault. After Sargeant was found guilty of first-degree murder earlier this week, Harrington’s family approached the DA, told him that nothing would bring their son back, and asked him not to proceed with the portion of the trial that could have resulted in a death sentence.
From Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, the story of a former prosecutor and defense attorney whose brother was murdered, and how that experience affected her views on the death penalty.
The New York Times on the cruel and unusual history of the death penalty. The article discusses a number of botched executions, most interestingly the executions of men on whose cases the Supreme Court relied in its recent Baze decision.
A friend sent me this link, with a note, “Arrr! It be cruel and unusual punishment!”
To which I naturally replied, “Shiver me timbers! Yer evolving standards of decency has been cast in Davy Jones’ locker!”
It’s possible that we both need a hobby.
News Update 04.21.08
The US Supreme Court’s decision last week in Baze v. Rees does not mean that executions will resume immediately here in North Carolina. There are two state-based cases that must be resolved – first, a suit by five inmates who allege that the Council of State acted improperly in approving a new lethal injection protocol, and second, a suit by the Department of Correction against the North Carolina Medical Board, which sought to sanction doctors who participated in executions.
To be sure, courts will be asked to consider whether the differences between the Kentucky and North Carolina protocols are constitutionally significant. The majority opinion spent a good bit of energy applauding Kentucky safeguards that are absent here in the Tarheel State, for example that someone is present in the execution chamber to directly monitor the inmate and his IVs. The BIS monitor briefly reared its ugly head in the majority opinion, only to be quickly dismissed as lacking in scientific and medical support as a means of determining unconsciousness. Wonder what the Council of State will have to say about that. Perhaps Justice Alito’s concurring opinion with regard to forcing doctor participation in lethal injection will have some role to play in the Medical Board case.
The Charlotte Observer urges the State not to rush back to the death chamber until reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and the execution of innocents have been implemented. The News and Observer takes things a step further.
Blog coverage of the Court’s ruling in Baze v. Rees:
- Amnesty International (overall summary)
- Capital Defense Weekly (initial reaction and additional thoughts)
- SCOTUSBlog (analysis for the legal-minded)
- Sentencing Law and Policy (a more pro-DP view)
- StandDown Texas (initial reaction)
- Various sources as complied by CDW and StandDown
I also note SCOTUSBlog’s follow-up series, which includes a conservative perspective and a liberal perspective on the Baze opinion, and this New York Times piece on Justice Stevens’ conversion to death penalty opponent.
Now that Baze has been decided, executions are sure to begin again in some states. Virginia has the earliest scheduled execution at the moment – Kevin Green on May 27th. New litigation has been filed in Mississippi, arguing that the safeguards applauded by the Court in Kentucky are absent from the Mississippi protocol, and therefore the execution of Earl Wesley Berry cannot proceed under Baze. Meanwhile, Florida has filed a motion to vacate the stay of execution granted to Mark Dean Schwab because it believes its protocol “more than satisf[ies]” the requirements of Baze. This morning, the Supreme Court lifted a number of stays and denied cert in several other cases.
On the same day it announced its ruling in Baze, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kennedy v. Louisiana, which challenges the implementation of the death penalty for crimes other than murder, in this case, child rape. Reporting from Amnesty International (re: whether executing their attackers is in the best interests of children) and SCOTUSBlog (re: summary of the arguments and insight into the Justices’ likely opinions). Compilation of media coverage by StandDown. You can read the transcript of the argument here.