Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court

20
Oct
10

Are All Crimes Equal?

Criminal Codes Gone Wild

On September 28, 2010, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, held a hearing entitled, “Reining in Overcriminalization: Assessing the Problems, Proposing Solutions.” The hearing was designed to heighten the dialogue around overcriminalization and review the process by which federal criminal laws are enacted.

Overcriminalization describes the trend in our justice system of attaching criminal penalties to conduct that should not be categorized as criminal.

The panel featured two victims of overcriminalization, two legal scholars on the issue, and special interest groups that represented the spectrum of concern on this issue — including the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Our system rests on a few very basic ideas around retribution and deterrence. We all agree that if someone commits a crime there should be consequences. But should those consequences necessitate criminal penalties or jail time? The witnesses argued that it should not, especially when it relates to unclear regulatory enforcement. Although the ACLU’s overcriminalization efforts focus on the issue of criminalizing low-level and nonviolent violations in ways that disproportionately impact minority communities, our goals are aligned: when penalties for any crime seem to be disproportionate to the crime, are inconsistently applied, or come as a result of unclear laws, we have a broken system.

Consider the case of Robert Unser, who set out for a snowmobile ride one day in the Colorado Rockies when he suddenly found himself caught in the middle of a blizzard. He searched for cover in the freezing darkness and, after traveling miles and hours, was finally able to find shelter in a small embankment. After the storm passed, he began to try to make his way home and by chance or miracle, discovered a barn with electricity and was rescued. He spent a month recovering from frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration.

After his recovery, he reached out to the New Mexico deputy sheriff who directed him to the United States Forest Service to try to reclaim his snowmobile. He met with park officials and recounted the events but was surprised to later learn that a federal investigation had begun because, it turns out, Unser broke the law by driving through an unmarked wilderness zone. In spite of officials’ full knowledge of the emergency circumstances, prosecutors charged Unser with a felony federal charge of operating a motorized vehicle inside of a national wilderness area — a crime that carried a maximum penalty of $5,000 and six months in prison.

Unser was convicted of this violation and now lives with the stigma of being a felon due to laws former judge and Subcommittee Ranking Member Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) characterized as “obscure and cumbersome regulations.”

The hearing centered on explaining how we reach these seemingly unimaginable outcomes. All of the panelists agreed that convictions based on murky laws create a wasteful and counterproductive system.

Without action from Congress, cases like Unser’s and similar disproportionate criminal convictions will continue to clog our courts and jails, resulting in fewer resources to pursue real crimes.

Source: (http://goo.gl/AATgBlog of Rights: Official Blog of the American Civil Liberties Union

 

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12
May
09

The Toughest Decision a President has to make

Statue_of_Liberty

icon_digg Our President has achieved a much needed start, over the past four short months, on rebuilding the functions of our government, as it was originally conceived by our forefathers, while returning our nation back to us, the common folks who comprise the mainstream of America.

Ahead, in my opinion, lies one of the most important aspects of the Presidency; deciding who sits on the Supreme Court.  As voters, we decide, at all levels, who represents us in our government, but only the President decides who is nominated as a Justice.  Since our country is governed by the “Rule of Law”, these nine Justices decisions affect our entire society and determine the way we live.

In an article, authored by Geoffrey Stone, entitled: “The Next Justice: What Obama Wants”, presented within the Huffington Post, Mr. Stone surmises these five factors will be especially important to President Obama:

  • High level of intellectual ability
  • Moderate liberal
  • A strong voice about the role of the Supreme Court
  • Build consensus within the Court
  • Diversity

All of which I concur with, especially the fifth item of the aforementioned, which I feel would be a woman, a Hispanic, or an African-American.

Everyone as their own opinions on the issues which need attending to, by the Supreme Court; myself I list the following, some of which are currently ongoing within the court while some, I’m sure, will come into focus within President Obama’s Administration:

  • I believe in an exacting separation between “church” and “state”.  During the Bush years there seemed to persist an interwoven connection between the two which divided Americans instead of bonding us.
  • I believe Guantanamo Bay (Camp Delta) must be closed and the incarcerated be confined in prison(s) located within the continental US.  Consider reviewing this posting, entitled: “What Makes Guantanamo Bay Special” authored by me, for additional details.
  • I believe those within the Bush Administration, responsible for authorizing “torture” should be accounted for.  This dose not necessarily mean imprisoned; instead the truth must be made available via the FOIA (pdf) so history can be documented correctly during this troubled chapter in our War on Terrorism.  Consider reviewing this posting, entitled: “Change Starts by Correcting the Past” and “Torturing Democracy – The Film”, both authored by me, for additional details.
  • I believe our current Patriot Act, especially the FISA amendment, will present itself before the court.  Surveillance of expats and retirees living abroad who are loyal Americans need not be included within unsupervised “data mining” operations.  Again consider reviewing this posting, entitled: “Time for Another Review of the Patriot Act” and “Going Beyond the Limits Surveillance” authored by me, for additional details.

As you can easily ascertain, my views are liberal, which is contrary to the notion that “the older you become, the more conservative your beliefs are”.

As for my recommendations of who should to become our next Supreme Court Justice, I’ll have to punt and save that for an additional posting, once all the “chatter” on the net has subsided. However, I do believe President Obama’s choice will either come from the First or Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (map pdf).

Update 17 May09:

No Clamor for High Court Appointee to Be Woman, Minority
As in 2005, majority of Americans say gender, race, and ethnicity of appointee don’t matter
by Frank Newport | Gallup Polls

Despite the widely reported expectation that President Barack Obama will be looking for a qualified woman — perhaps from a minority racial or ethnic group — to fill the seat to be vacated by the retiring Justice David Souter, 64% of Americans say it doesn’t matter to them whether Obama appoints a woman, with slightly higher percentages saying the same about the appointment of a black or Hispanic.

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Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her resignation from the Court in 2005 and was replaced by a man (Samuel Alito), meaning that the Court today includes only one female justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who herself has been battling cancer. As a result, there has been much speculation that President Obama will almost certainly nominate a female justice to avoid the possibility that within the next several years, the Court would have nine male justices. Still, as was the case four years ago, when there were two vacancies on the court (after Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away and before O’Connor’s seat was filled), there is very little demand from the American public that Obama replace Souter with a woman.

For sake of reference, the following postings are provided:

Current U.S. Supreme Court Justices (courtesy of Cornell University)

Supreme Court Appointment Process – Roles of the President – Judiciary Committee and Senate (pdf)

A Brief Overview of the Supreme Court (pdf)

Possible Supreme Court Candidates for Justice David Souter (Salon.com)

Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Supreme Court Nomination Hearings (1971 – forward)

Past members of the Supreme Court of the United States (pfd)

Related Newswires Articles on the Supreme Court

As always a YouTube video (this time somewhat dated) regarding the Supreme Court decision for a candidate from the White House.

White House Talks Supreme Court Justice Souter’s Replacement

After President Obama’s Announcement Of His Retirement – White House Talks About Supreme Court Justice Souter’s Replacement – 05/01/09

12
May
09

Supreme Court Candidates for Justice David Souter

lady justice

icon_digg The following listed candidates are possibilities for retiring Justice David Souter replacement on our Supreme Court.  This list was complied last November by Salon.com and the New York Times. Salon’s panel consisted of the following:

  • Thomas Goldstein, head of the Supreme Court practice for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
  • David Yalof, associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut Quantcast
  • Cass Sunstein, University of Chicago law professor and Obama advisor
  • Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School professor and Obama advisor
  • Lucas A. Powe Jr., Supreme Court historian at the University of Texas School of Law
  • Robert A. Levy, chair of the Cato Institute

As for my recommendations of who should to become our next Supreme Court Justice, I’ll have to punt and save that for an additional posting, once all the “chatter” on the net has subsided. However, I do believe President Obama’s choice will either come from the First or Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (map pdf).

The Candidates:

Sonia Sotomayor:

Sonia SotomayorAfter growing up in a Bronx housing project, Sotomayor has risen to become a judge on one of the most powerful courts in the land: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. As a Hispanic woman, Sotomayor would make an attractive candidate if Obama is looking to diversify the court. There has never been a Hispanic on the Supreme Court, and there is only one woman currently on the bench, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sotomayor might also have bipartisan appeal. She is politically moderate, and President George H.W. Bush appointed her to her first judgeship.

Additional information regarding Judge Sotomayor from the NY Times:

Sonia Sotomayor has been a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit since 1998. Before joining the appeals court, she served as a United States District Court judge for the Southern District of New York.

She has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Justice David H. Souter, who plans to retire from the Supreme Court in June.

In what may be her best-known ruling, Judge Sotomayor issued an injunction against major league baseball owners in April 1995, effectively ending a baseball strike of nearly eight months, the longest work stoppage in professional sports history, which had led to the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.

On the district court bench, Judge Sotomayor earned a reputation as a sharp, outspoken and fearless jurist, someone who does not let powerful interests bully, rush or cow her into a decision. “She does not have much patience for people trying to snow her,” said one lawyer in 1995, who had cases pending before the judge and asked not to be identified. “You can’t do it.”

While still in her 30s, Judge Sotomayor became the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York. She was the first American of Puerto Rican descent to be appointed to the Federal bench in New York City.

Born in the Bronx on June 23, 1954, she was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 8. Her father, a factory worker, died a year later. Her mother, a nurse at a methadone clinic, raised her daughter and a younger son on a modest salary.

Judge Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude in 1976 and became an editor of the Yale Law Journal. She spent five years as a prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office before entering private practice.

But she longed to return to public service, she said, inspired by a “Perry Mason” episode she saw as a girl. In 1992, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recommended the politically centrist lawyer to President George H. W. Bush, making good on a longstanding promise to appoint a Hispanic judge in New York.

Since then, Judge Sotomayor has demonstrated a willingness to take the government to task whenever she believes the circumstances warrant it. She has taken strong anti-government positions in several decisions, including cases involving the White House, the religious rights of prisoners and even the Hell’s Angels. During her first year on the appeals bench, she received high ratings from liberal public-interest groups.

Deval PatrickDeval Patrick:

As the first African-American governor of Massachusetts and a friend of Barack Obama’s, Patrick is often mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Patrick would bring something that is in short supply on the court: executive experience. But he would also bring a major risk: He has never served in the judiciary. Despite that gap in his résumé, he has some background in the law. Before he was governor, Patrick was a lawyer and President Clinton appointed him the assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1994 — the nation’s highest civil rights position. Patrick is solidly liberal and supports a number of positions, such as same-sex marriage, that could make him a target for Republicans during the confirmation process.

Elena Kagan:

Elena KaganFew names have been floated as often as a potential Obama nominee as Kagan, the dean of the Harvard Law School — Obama’s alma mater. Like Obama, she also taught at the University of Chicago. Kagan served in Clinton’s White House as an associate counsel and domestic policy advisor. Clinton nominated her for a position on the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but Republicans stalled her approval. Kagan clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Additional information regarding Judge Kagan from the NY Times:

Elena Kagan is the first woman to hold the position of solicitor general, and is considered a leading candidate to replace Supreme Court Justice David A. Souter, who has told associates that he intends to resign.

The solicitor general, who is the only federal official required by statute to be “learned in the law” and is sometimes referred to informally as “the 10th justice,” supervises appellate litigation involving the federal government and presents the government’s views to the Supreme Court.

Before becoming solicitor general, Ms. Kagan was dean of Harvard Law School. She brought with her a powerful and varied résumé and has produced a substantial paper trail. But she has provided few clues about where she stands on the great legal issues of the day, notably the Bush administration’s broad assertions of unilateral executive power in areas like detention, surveillance, interrogation and rendition. She did offer a glimpse of her views in a 2001 article in The Harvard Law Review that considered the “unitary executive” theory.

The phrase is sometimes used as shorthand for the Bush administration’s assertion that it has broad powers that cannot be limited by Congress or the courts. In her article, Ms. Kagan addressed an earlier and narrower meaning of the phrase, one made popular during the Reagan administration, concerning the scope of the president’s power to control the executive branch itself.

She found that such presidential control “expanded dramatically during the Clinton presidency,” a development she largely welcomed. But she said Congress, experts and interest groups should also play a role in informing the executive branch’s actions.

“I do not espouse the unitarian position,” Ms. Kagan wrote. “President Clinton’s assertion of directive authority over administration, more than President Reagan’s assertion of a general supervisory authority, raises serious constitutional questions.”

Ms. Kagan, whose scholarly interests include administrative law and the First Amendment, is widely credited with bringing harmony and star faculty members to the notoriously dysfunctional Harvard Law School.

She served as a lawyer and policy adviser under President Bill Clinton, who nominated her to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That nomination stalled in the Senate.

Before her nomination, Ms. Kagan had never argued a case before the Supreme Court. Early in her career, Ms. Kagan served as clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, who ascended to the court after serving as solicitor general. Justice Marshall called her, Ms. Kagan once wrote, “to my face and I imagine also behind my back, ‘Shorty.

Continue reading ‘Supreme Court Candidates for Justice David Souter’

21
Apr
09

Bars of the Helpless

inmates-1

icon_digg10 It’s become a depressingly predictable event. Every few months, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the US Department of Justice, releases new figures showing that the US prison and jail population has grown yet again and has reached a new all-time high. The latest statistics, released last week, show that as of June 30, 2008, more than 2.3 million people were behind bars in this country — an increase of almost 20 percent just since 2000. This gives the United States an incarceration rate of 762 per 100,000 residents – the highest rate in the world, dwarfing those of other democracies like Great Britain (152 per 100,000), Canada (116), and Japan (63).

The aforementioned is quoted from an article appearing within the Huffington Post, entitled: “Prison Nation” and authored by David C. Fathi.  This ever increasing prison population demands immediate action as to “why” our country is producing so many incarcerated individuals within our society and “how” can prevent this increasing trend of penalized peoples.

Mr. Fathi’s article also sites:

Of course incarceration doesn’t affect everyone equally. Black men in the United States are 6.6 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated. More than 10 percent of all black males ages 25 to 39 were in prison or jail as of June 30, 2008. And a 2006 BJS study showed that prisons and jails have become the new asylums, with more than half of all prisoners suffering from mental health problems like major depression and psychotic disorders.

It wasn’t always like this. For much of the 20th century, the US incarceration rate remained fairly stable. It began to climb sharply in the late 1970s, as a result of policy changes like mandatory minimum sentencing and the widespread abolition of parole. In the 1980s and 1990s, the “war on drugs” and “three strikes” laws fueled further growth. More people were going to prison, and staying there for longer periods of time. By 2004, the incarcerated population was six times what it had been in 1972.

Contrary to popular belief, the growing prison population has little or nothing to do with an increase in crime. In fact, crime rates fell steadily between 1991 and 2006, eventually reaching levels not seen since the 1960s. Yet the incarceration rate increased by more than 50 percent in that same period. It’s clear, then, that political choice, not crime, has given the United States its massive prison and jail population.

As you can read, our past political environment seems to account for these numbers and hopefully will begin to decrease once attention is directed by our President to these alarming statistics.

Our dysfunctional criminal justice system has been a long time in the making, and no one should have any illusions that it will be fixed overnight. But a National Criminal Justice Commission would be an important first step toward ending our shameful status as the world’s leading prison nation.

The following video presents Janet Reno, former Attorney General in the Clinton Administration presenting her views on concerns within our present day legal system.

Janet Reno: Improving the Legal System

Update 22 April 09:

Living A Life Sentence
from CBSNews.com

Over the years who knows how many Americans have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned, even executed? And even when the mistake is realized and the exonerated are released, what then?

Report: Fewer Blacks in Prison for Drugs
from ABC News: Home Page

Quarter-century old trend has reversed with number of white prisoners rising.

Update 26 Apr 09:

As Census Nears, How to Count Inmates Is Debated
from Wash Post – World News by Keith B. Richburg

NEW YORK — Elizabeth O’C. Little , a Republican state senator, represents a rural Upstate district larger in square miles than Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. But more than 13,500 of her constituents are not living there by choice, they could not vote for her if they wanted to, and most will…

Update 29 Apr 09:

Congress Asked, More Slack For Crack?
from CBSNews.com

The Obama Administration wants Congress to lower mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine possession. The idea is to eliminate the disparity in prison sentences between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine.

Update 04 May 09:

Not The End Of The Affair
from CBSNews.com

Nineteen years after a man was convicted on a capital murder case, it was revealed that the judge had been having an affair with the prosecutor.

04
Apr
09

The Blinds of Justice are Lifting

justice

icon_digg3 A couple of months ago (February 2nd to be precise), I authored a posting entitled, “John Yoo A Tough Decision to Defend for the President” regarding the redemption of America’s justice system in wake of all the miscarriages of justice which occurred during the Bush Administration and in particular those pertaining to John Yoo.  Yoo was Bush’s lead legal adviser authoring legal memos concerning the treatment, incarceration and trial (hearings) proceedings of Iraqi and Afghan detainees.

Following up on my past posting I’ve learned others share equally in my interest of Mr. Yoo’s all encompassing ability of embarrassing our country in the eyes of the international community.  In an article posted within Hoffington Post, Mr. Martin Garbus, a Trial lawyer, authored an article entitled: “The Times May Be Changing” where he states some of the following excerpts:

Now six years after Iraq started, nearly one hundred days into the new presidency, more and more information is coming out about the involvement of the Bush people in Iraq-related criminal acts. The legal memos and the statements of tortured detainees are only the beginning of what will soon be a flood of information.

The legal machinery is starting to build, case by case, a rejection of Bush’s legal theories.
Today’s decision from Federal Judge John Bates of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that those detained in Afghanistan will have access to American courts builds on the recent cases that allow Guantanamo detainees access to the federal court. Judge Bates rejected both the Bush administration’s view and the recently articulated view of President Barack Obama that habeas corpus is not available to imprisoned non-Afghans who are arrested beyond Afghanistan.

We are seeing a pattern in the Washington federal courts. The judges are not shying away from tacking tough issues. The concept that a man sitting in Baghram has a right he can enforce in an American court seemed impossible a few years ago. The constant rat-a-tat of the media, with pictures of the tortured prisoners clearly influences judges along with the rest of the population. Judges respond also when the president too set a higher standard.

Attorney General Eric Holder is the one who must start the criminal process against Cheney, Gonzales, Yoo and the others. He does not shy away from difficult choices, given backing that lets him know he is not alone. He can, and has, taken positions that are ahead of Obama.

Attorney General Holder’s decision today is easier than it was yesterday, and as more and more stories of brutalized prisoners come out, it will get even easier, especially with our President’s recent executive order of allowing wider windows to be opened to the public through the “Freedom of Information Act.

Judge Bates, and the judges before him, including the Supreme Court, have rejected the rationale of Bush’s Attorney General and supporting lawyers that gave the President “unitary powers.”

The public should let Eric Holder and the president know they support criminal prosecution of the Bush people.  This may be accomplished by contacting the Department of Justice here.

15
Mar
09

The GOP doesn’t Give-up Turf Easily

icon_digg12

Not to my knowledge dose any of our elected officials have me on their private contact list, nor have I requested such a privilege be extended to me; however, I do follow our country’s online political news very carefully and I don’t recall either President Obama or our Attorney General, Eric Holder mentioning candidates for Federal Judgeship.  I could be wrong?

So, this bring to my mind; why would the Republican members in our Senate ever bring up the issue of rejecting our President’s selections for Federal Judges, “other” than those chosen by the Bush Administration.  What a bunch of spoilt children!

I think these boys and girls should devote more of their concentration on solving the ever increasing and pressing problem of the economy than concerns that may happen on the horizon.

My foundation for this argument and posting comes from an article posted on Politico stating the following:

Federal Judges

Federal Judges

Republicans warn Obama on judges
By MANU RAJU | 3/2/09 6:56 PM EST

President Barack Obama should fill vacant spots on the federal bench with former President Bush’s judicial nominees to help avoid another huge fight over the judiciary, all 41 Senate Republicans said Monday.

In a letter to the White House, the Republican senators said Obama would “change the tone in Washington” if he were to renominate Bush nominees like Peter Keisler, Glen Conrad and Paul Diamond. And they requested that Obama respect the Senate’s constitutional role in reviewing judicial nominees by seeking their consultation about potential nominees from their respective states.

“Regretfully, if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states, the Republican Conference will be unable to support moving forward on that nominee,” the letter warns. “And we will act to preserve this principle and the rights of our colleagues if it is not.”

In other words, Republicans are threatening a filibuster of judges if they’re not happy.

The letter is an opening salvo in what could be a partisan battle in the Obama years. Democrats regularly complained that Bush nominated conservative judges without consulting them, then the Republican-controlled Senate ran roughshod over them even if the nominees lacked support from homestate senators. Obama’s lawyer Gregory Craig has begun his outreach with senators about potential nominees, and several Republicans have warned Obama that the quickest way to squander bipartisan goodwill is to nominate far-left judges.

To complement the aforementioned posting the following YouTube video, which brings back many a memories regarding how bitter bipartisan fighting can become when Senators were in disagreement over the confirmation of Judge Leslie Southwick.

Judge Leslie Southwick

03
Feb
09

Capitol Punishment: a Time for Judgment

Both during the Primary and General Elections, I pushed not just President Obama and Senator McCain, but all the candidates I could contact regarding their views on “Capitol Punishment”.  Needless to say, never a response on this issue was given; where today we have one in one-hundred fellow citizens behind prison bars (not all for execution).

Capitol Punishment is an important issue, since I’m a firm believer in the “rule of Law”, meaning we, at one time (before Bush) had the fairest and most just legal systems in the world.  But our legal system needs updating!

Not necessarily the laws, but more so the technological aspects of the system.  With the advent of DNA testing and the results that have been surprisingly uncovered; just in the last five years, our country has unlocked the cell doors of dozens of convicted individuals that were found to be wrongly imprisoned.

A moratorium, as what happened in 1969, should be established, until, in not all cases, but cases where DNA testing can be implemented to insure proper judgment, based on DNA results the existing facts of the case in question are reestablished.

Personally, I’m for capitol punishment in some cases, which are:

  • Treason
  • Desertion in battle, at the time of war
  • Genocide
  • Serial murders

Other than the aforementioned four, no, I’m not in favor of the death sentence.

So, what brought this to my attention again?  An online article published by TIME.com entitled: “The Tide Shifting Against the Death Penalty” authored by Richard Lacayo.  Below are excerpts from this article, which I have high lighted, and feel are of interest:

If there were such a thing as a golden age of capital punishment in America, it peaked in 1999. There were 98 executions in the U.S. that year, the highest number since 1976, when the Supreme Court, which had overturned all death penalty laws in 1972, began approving them again.

A decade later, capital punishment has a lot less life in it. Last year saw just 37 executions in the U.S., with only 111 death sentences handed down. Though 36 states and the federal government still have death penalty laws on the books, the practice of actually carrying out executions is limited almost entirely to the south, the region where all but two of last year’s executions took place. (The exceptions were both in Ohio.) Even in Texas, still the state leader in annual executions, only 10 men and one woman were sentenced to death last year, the lowest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Even more significantly, where states once hurried to adopt death penalty laws, the pendulum now appears to be swinging in the other direction. In 2007 New Jersey became the first state in 40 years to abolish its death penalty. In that same year repeal bills were narrowly defeated in Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico, all of which are revisiting the issue this year. And now the focus is on Maryland. After years of failed attempts by death penalty opponents to bring a repeal bill to a vote in the state legislature, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is personally sponsoring this year’s version, promising he will fight to have the legislature pass it during its current 90-day session.

Death penalty opponents say the use of DNA evidence, which has led to a number of prisoners being released from death row, is a big part of the reason for the decline in executions generally. “That’s had a ripple effect,” says Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based advocacy group. “The whole legal system has become more cautious about the death penalty. Prosecutors are not seeking it as much. Juries are returning more life sentences. And judges are granting more stays of execution. Last year there were over 40.”

Last year, after months of public hearings, a state commission on the death penalty voted 13-9 to recommend that it should be abolished. In its final report the commission, which had been headed by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, cited the usual objections to capital punishment — cost, racial and jurisdictional disparities in sentencing, its ineffectiveness as a deterrent against crime and the possibility that innocent people might be put to death. One of the commission’s members was Kirk Bloodsworth, who had been on death row in Maryland for two years in the mid-1980s before he was cleared by DNA evidence.

Update 21 Feb 09:

Ex-death row inmate’s DNA not found on evidence
from AP Top Headlines At Noon EDT by By ROSE FRENCH

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — DNA from key evidence in a Tennessee woman’s slaying does not match the man who spent more than two decades on death row for killing her, according to new FBI lab tests….




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