An American Bar Association analysis of Missouri’s death penalty procedures finds much room for improvement.
The report, to be formally announced today, faults the state for:
* not holding on to DNA evidence for as long as a person is incarcerated;
* not having clear requirements for recording depositions;
* not providing two attorneys and an investigator for defendants in death-penalty cases and appeals;
* not paying public defenders in capital cases fairly;
* not tracking racial statistics in death-penalty cases;
* and requiring that a defendant’s mental disability be documented — as opposed to just manifested — before they reach 18.
The report, “Evaluating Fairness and Accuracy in State Death Penalty Systems: The Missouri Death Penalty Assessment Report,” (view PDF of report) was conducted by a team of eight Missouri law professors, attorneys and judges with varying views on the death penalty. It looked at a dozen key areas that affect who is executed by the state and how fairly such punishment is meted out.
“The ABA doesn’t take a position on the death penalty itself but calls for states to impose a moratorium if certain problems have not been corrected,” said Virginia Sloan, chair of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Project.
The Missouri report is part of a second wave of such reports that have looked at the death penalty in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee since 2003. Funding for all the reports came from the European Union, which strongly opposes the death penalty.
The report said the state’s “areas of strength” were its accreditation of crime labs, provision of defense services, trial instructions to jurors in capital cases, the independence of its judiciary and its treatment of “mentally retarded” offenders.
Reform, however, was called for in six areas: aggravating circumstances, at the pretrial stage, at the trial stage, at the post-trial stage, data collection and funding issues. It says that the state allows too broad of a range of aggravating circumstances to result in a penalty of death.
Legislation in Missouri was introduced at the beginning of this year by Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, to hold off on executions in Missouri until a statewide report can be completed.
Look for a more in-depth story in the March 5 issue of Missouri Lawyers Weekly.