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ABA report: Missouri death penalty procedures rife with problems

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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.

One comment

  1. When we read about some of the horrendous crimes people commit, it’s easy to want to see them put to death. Maybe that’s just, but if so, we need a national system that applies the death penalty evenly in every state, with limitations on the appeal system. Today the death penalty business varies greatly from state to state, and in many cases, ambitious prosecutors are far too hasty to put a person on death row. There have been many cases of condemning an innocent person, and as the old adage goes, it’s better that a hundred guilty men go free than that one innocent man be punished.
    Add to these thoughts the fact that in many cases it costs more to keep prisoners on death row for the many years it takes to get the condemned down that last mile than it would to give them life without parole and toss them into the tank with the other fish.
    Prisoners on death row actually have certain privileges denied to the majority of the prison population. They have a private cell with no one to bother them and they have a seeming endless supply of automatic appeals going for them.
    I believe that if we are going to impose the death penalty, we need national laws governing this so that the justice system is equally applied in every case.
    While it’s tempting to want to see many felons burn for their heinous acts, in the long run, the death penalty isn’t really a constructive method of controlling crime. If most offenders had any self control, they wouldn’t do the horrible things they do. The death penalty is the last thing on their minds when they’re in the middle of an \operation\.

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