Illinois Prosecutors Give Media Their Reasons to Keep Death Penalty - Will Govenor Quinn Be Swayed?

The pressure is building over in Illinois .... Governor Pat Quinn still has not made his decision on whether or not Illinois will abolish the death penalty.  Not that he isn't busy enough with massive blizzards, and a budget that's broke, among other things. 

Maybe he's distracted, right?  Maybe that is why in yesterday's Chicago Sun Times, the state prosecutors have brought their arguments to keep the death penalty on the books to the media. 

If Governor Quinn reads the article,"Death penalty a bargaining chip prosecutors aim to keep," he'll find some of the same arguments that state attorneys across the country routinely argue to advance capital punishment, i.e.:

1.  the death penalty gives prosecutions a big "bargaining chip" in plea negotiations; with death on the table, they argue that they are able to urge suspects to plead out and take a life sentence rather than risk it.   So, without capital punishment, state attorneys are going to have to try more cases.

2.  without the Illinois death penalty, Illinois loses the ability to get money from the Capital Litigation Trust Fund which is a fund providing monetary support for trials where death is being sought.  End capital punishment, and that fund will not there to pay for expenses in trials - which is a big deal to Illinois, which is broke.  (All the fund's money reportedly would be going to helping murder victims and training law enforcement.)

3.  Prosecutors also argue that victims' families want the death penalty for closure as well as justice.

There's a lot that criminal defense attorneys can argue in rebuttal to each of these arguments; you probably have your opinion on these points, too.  Gotta wonder what Governor Pat Quinn's take is on all this ....

Tennessee Is Considering Using Pentobarbital in its Executions, the Drug Used to Put Down Pets

Seems Tennessee can't find a supplier for its lethal injection executions using a three drug cocktail that includes sodium thiopental (guess they haven't called Besse Medical), so pentobarbital is apparently being considered as a substitute

According to its state website, Tennessee has a long execution history, with hanging and the electric chair as two prior methods -- electrocution still being a viable alternative that has been used as late as 2007:

Until 1913, all individuals convicted of a capital offense were hanged. There are no official records of the number or names of those executed. From 1913 to 1915, there was no capital punishment in Tennessee. C. Rye was Governor during the first execution by electrocution. From 1916 until 1960, 125 persons were executed by electrocution in Tennessee. In 2000, lethal injection replaced electrocution as the primary method of execution. In September, 2007 the first electrocution in 47 years was carried out.

Oklahoma has decided upon pentobarbital.

Of course, there's already a precedent set for using pentobarbital that Tennessee could follow.   Oklahoma already treated John David Duty, Billy Don Alverson, and Jeffrey David Matthews  just like veterarians treat dogs and cats all over the country, when they used pentobarbital in their executions.  And apparently, Oklahoma is fine with this and plans to continue using pentobarbital, according to its website description of its execution methods.

Meanwhile, Tennessee isn't having such an easy time here. 

According to an article written by Brian Haas in the Tennessean earlier this month, entitled, "Tennessee has few options for execution drugs; Imports, sedative used to put down animals face likely challenges," Tennessee has 86 men on Death Row -- but not nearly enough sodium thiopental to handle the demand.   However, Tennessee isn't having the smooth transition to vet-drugs that Oklahoma did.

Tennessee wouldn't need to enact new law before changing over to the alternative drug, it's an adminstrative decision apparently that can be made rather quickly and without lengthy review in advance.  Still, the state officials aren't rushing to adopt Oklahoma's example (like Ohio appears to be doing).

Maybe Tennesse will consider the warnings of anesthesiologists and others in the medical community that are warning against assuming that pentobarbital will act on humans like it acts on dogs.   

Returning to electrocution vs. using pentobarbital?  Are these really the only options, Tennessee?

Iran Death Penalty Making WorldWide News Today: Let's Appreciate Our System of Justice, Imperfect Though It May Be

There is an amazing amount of news coverage focusing upon capital punishment today - and it's focus is Iran.  Right now, lawmakers in Iran - their legal representatives -- are actually demanding that their political opposition leaders get the death penalty.   

Why?  Because these folk organized a number of anti-government rallies which took place yesterday in various cities throughout Iran, including Tehran. 

What were the rallies about? 

Gaining support for uprisings - like Egypt's - against undemocratic government.   Specifically, the Iranian rallies yesterday were 10,000s of Iranians in the streets (Slate magazine is reporting 100,000s), protesting for the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.   It's still happening, apparently, and fatality reports are beginning to come in (two dead so far).

Specifically, there are lawmakers in this country that are demanding that two men, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, face the death penalty in a trial for sedition.  (What's sedition? Stirring up rebellion against the government. )

And, get this:  the media is reporting that over 220 Iranian lawmakers have signed this demand and if you watch the news, you can see them yelling "Death to Mousavi! Death to Karroubi!" 

Meanwhile, under the American system of government....

Consider by comparision that another ongoing death penalty news story this week is whether or Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois will veto abolishing the death penalty in that state.  The governmental process in action, in our country. 

We're in a bad recession here, some call it a depression.  We've got threats inside and out and there are lots of things to fight about here in the United States.  True, we may have sent innocent men to their deaths before DNA testing arrived, and if we aren't careful, we still may.

But today, as the death penalty gets tossed around cavalierly in the Iranian political arena, it's a good time to set back and appreciate the system of justice we do have.  It's not perfect, but go set in any death penalty criminal trial, guilt phase or penalty phase, and it's clear that our nation does respect the finality of a death sentence, and we do appreciate mercy, in a very worthy way. 

U.S. Execution Schedule in 2011 and Tracking Stays on the Death Row Calendar

Scheduling executions for various states in this country continues to be in flux, primarily due to this continuing problem of having Hospira exit the marketplace as the supplier of sodium thiopental, a necessary component to the three-drug lethal injection method of execution. 

However, the Death Penalty Information Center is doing a fine job of keeping track of things, and not only can you learn the execution schedules for each state during 2011, the DPIC site also provides details behind the varous stays of execution that are popping up everywhere.To check out their latest information, just jump over to the DPIC Execution Schedule webpage.

Six executions have been stayed so far this year -- and we're only six weeks into 2011. 

We should expect more delays, of course.  Again, not just for the usual appellate reasons (challenges to procedure, proof, constitutional violations and the like), but because there remains the problem of how these states are going to kill these folk if they can't follow their usual lethal injection protocol.

Decisions, Decisions - How to Execute When Facing a Drug Shortage

Sure, they all have alternative methods on the books - but most states are delaying things until the drug issues resolve themselves.  On Death Row, lives are being given more time because states are facing tremendous political and fiscal pressure as each must decide:

And we must all remember that stays of execution are not commuting these death sentences.  No one is getting moved off Death Row.  They are justing getting more time to live.  And, that is something important, isn't it?

Florida Capital Resource Center's First Amicus Brief - Victory Allows Mitigation Specialist in Death Penalty Case

As the Florida Capital Resource Center grows, stories like this will become more commonplace - but today, it's a major victory we're celebrating since the First District Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of allowing additional mitigation expertise in a pending prosecution where the death penalty is being sought.

As Terry puts it, "Our first Amicus filed on behalf of those working courageously to represent death qualified defendants in Florida!  Congrats to Rick Sichta (defendant's trial counsel)!"  (As the founder of FCRC, Terry is understandably proud and excited about this result.)

For those interested in reading the full opinion, we've included it as a site download.  Meanwhile, here's the gist of things, from the court itself:

Criminal Specialist Investigations, Inc., Petitioner, seeks a writ of certiorari quashing the trial court’s order denying a motion for additional mitigation coordinator fees in a capital case. Petitioner argues that the trial court failed to undertake the appropriate consideration of the reasonableness and necessity of the costs at issue with respect to this particular case. We agree. Accordingly, we grant the petition, quash the order under review, and remand this case for further proceedings.

The trial court appointed Rosalie Bolin as the mitigation coordinator in the case of Tajuane Dubose, who was charged with first-degree murder and shooting or throwing deadly missiles. Dubose was eligible for the death penalty, and his private court-appointed counsel hired Bolin to assist in the preparation for the penalty phase of his case, which the trial judge found was one of the most unusual and extraordinary cases he had presided over. Over the course of the case, the trial court approved several motions for mitigation coordinator fees. After the penalty phase was complete, and Dubose had been sentenced to life imprisonment, defense counsel filed an Amended Fourth and Final Ex-Parte Motion for Authorization to Incur Additional Mitigation Coordinator Fees. In the amended motion, defense counsel opined that the favorable verdict of life imprisonment was due largely to Bolin’s work on the case. He described Bolin’s role as “instrumental” and provided some detail about her work. Additionally, an itemized bill was attached to the motion, and counsel alleged that the Justice Administrative Commission (“JAC”) had no objection to the payment of the fees requested.

At a hearing where the motion was discussed, the trial judge opined that Florida law did not recognize any such position as that of a mitigation coordinator. The judge also opined that Bolin had already been paid too much and that the overpayment of mitigation coordinators was becoming a trend in capital cases.

To read and/or download the February 7, 2011, opinion of the First District Court of Appeals, go here.

FDA Sued By Death Row Inmates: Goal to Stop Import of Sodium Thiopental - Consider The Ramifications Here, They're Not All Good

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became the defendant in a civil suit filed this week by six Death Row inmates who face execution in Arizona (3 plaintiffs), California (2 plaintiffs), and Tennessee (1 plaintiff) as they seek a declaratory judgment from the federal judge presiding over the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that it is against federal law for the FDA to allow states to use imported sodium thiopental in their executions -- and that the FDA was wrong to issue its announcement that doing so was okay.  No news to the FDA - there was a public meeting last month where the players met to discuss the issue, clearly without resolution (or maybe, the meeting was just a chance for the opponents to eyeball each other). 

The Wall Street Journal provides a copy of the newly filed complaint here, if you wish to read the entire pleading.

Represented by the Arizona District's Federal Public Defender's Office and the high-powered law firm of Sidley Austin, this looks to be a major courthouse fight over the use of lethal injection drugs purchased outside the U.S. borders - at least, until the F.D.A. approves them as being acceptable under American standards.  Sidley Austin is already instituting its media strategy, getting the word out with a press release this week, and we should all expect to see more new release updates from the plaintiffs as the fight progresses. 

What's This Litigation Really Going to Do?

There are those that are hoping that closing the borders to the importation of this drug will somehow stop executions in this country.  That's not going to happen:  not only do we still have other American suppliers that may step into the gap (and yes, we mean Besse Medical in Ohio), but there are already other execution methods on the books - legal alternatives to the lethal injection method that have been sanctioned as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Utah had its firing squad execution last year, without tremendous public outcry, remember?  An argument can be made that not allowing British companies, for example, to sell sodium thiopental to Arizona, for example, can force us all back to these alternative execution methods - which seem much less merciful, somehow.  

New Hampshire Really Wants to Expand the Death Penalty: Two Separate Bills Will Be Heard Today

New Hampshire is holding two public hearings today in its House of Representatives (HR 147 at 10 o'clock, HR 162 at one o'clock) on two separate proposals to expand the death penalty.  That's right - in the midst of all the challenges across the country to capital punishment (Illinois, for example), there are still jurisdictions that appear to be solidly in support of sentencing defendants to death.

1.  New Hampshire proposal to extend the death penalty to home invasion homicides

Today, the Speaker of the House for the State of New Hampshire, William O'Brien, will testify before that legislative body on the reasons why he believes that the bill pending before it should be passed into law, a bill that would extend capital punishment in that state to homicides committed during a home invasion

You can follow HB 147 here, and you can read the text of New Hampshire House Bill 147 as it was introduced here.

He's not a renegade - such Big Kahunas as New Hampshire Governor John Lynch support the proposition that Speaker O'Brien will advance today.  What's behind this?  Public outrage at the horrific killing of Kimberly Cates, in her bed and in her home, by 2 teenaged home invaders using a machete. Admittedly, a gruesome act.

2.  New Hampshire proposal to extend the death penalty to all murders (100%)

Meanwhile, the House will also be hearing HB 162, sponsored by Representative Phil Greazzo, which is paints a much broader brush that Speaker O'Brien's proposal.  Under this bill, New Hampshire would be able to sentence defendants to death anytime they were convicted of murder.  Any murder.  A true eye-for-an-eye approach, it seems.

You can follow HB 162 here and you can read the text of New Hampshire House Bill 162 as it was introduced here.

3.  Is This a Clever "Split the Baby" Strategy?

Trial lawyers recognize a savvy approach by many a judge - particularly those with their ears to the political ground - to rule in such a way that each side of an argument gets something.  It's called the "split the baby" strategy by some.  Like King Solomon when the two mothers appeared before him, remember?  He ruled that he would cut the baby in half, and the real mother revealed herself by crying out against it. 

Well, reading these two bills going up before the New Hampshire House today one has to wonder if it will be easier to vote for the Home Invasion Bill because there is a harsher alternative on the table. 

Politically speaking, is this a legislative split the baby? Give the opponents to the death penalty a nix to the broader bill, and give the proponents a yes to the narrower one?  Everyone gets something that way, don't they? 

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