Death Penalty Resources

Pope Francis has officially changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church this month to condemn capital punishment as “inadmissible” and that the Church will work for “its abolition worldwide.”

The Pope has announced a major change in the position of the Catholic Church to the death penalty.  The Catholic Catechism has been formally amended.  From the August 2, 2018 Vatican Press Release, here is the translation provided from Rome:

Traduzione in lingua inglese

The death penalty

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

What is the Catechism?

From USCatholic.org, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is explained as a reference for all Catholic doctrine published by Pope John Paul II in 1992 as part of the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  Historically, the compilation goes back to 1566 when the first Roman Catechism was published as a result of the Council of Trent.  For details, visit the site as it discusses the history of the Catechism, including various national catechisms (for example, the 2006 United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA)).

Read the complete text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, translated into English, at the Vatican’s site. 

This Corresponds to Pope Francis’ Previous Statements Regarding the Death Penalty

The amendment is not a huge surprise.  Pope Francis has been vocal about his position on the death penalty before.  As an example, Sister Helen Prejean shares Pope Francis’ statements before the International Association of Criminal Law, here is the [translated] excerpt dealing with the death penalty:

I. In regard to the primacy of life and the dignity of the human person. Primatus principii pro homine

a) In regard to the Death Penalty

It is impossible to think that today States do not have at their disposal means other than capital punishment to defend the life of other persons from unjust aggression.

Saint John Paul II condemned the death penalty (cf. Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, 56), as does also the Catechism of the Catholic Church (N. 2267).

However, it can be verified that States take life not only with the death penalty and with wars, but also when public officials take refuge in the shadow of State powers to justify their crimes. The so-called extra-judicial or extra-legal executions are deliberate homicides committed by some States and their agents, often making it appear as clashes with delinquents or presented as the undesired consequence of a reasonable, necessary and proportional use of force to have the law applied. In this way, even if among the 60 countries that keep the death penalty, 35 have not applied it in the last [ten] years, the death penalty is applied, illegally and in different degrees, across the whole planet.

The same extra-judicial executions are perpetrated in a systematic way not only by States of the International Community, but also by entities not recognized as such, and they represent genuine crimes.

The arguments opposed to the death penalty are many and well known. The Church stressed some of them opportunely, such as the possibility of the existence of judicial error and the use that totalitarian and dictatorial regimes make of it, which use it as an instrument of suppression of political dissidence or of persecution of religious and cultural minorities, all victims that, for their respective legislations, are “delinquents.”

Therefore, all Christians and men of good will are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve the prison conditions, in respect of the human dignity of the persons deprived of freedom. And I link this with a life sentence. In the Vatican, since a short time ago, there is no longer a life sentence in the Penal Code. A life sentence is a hidden death sentence.

Catholic Theologians Discuss What This Means to Capital Punishment

From the Catholic News Agency comes an excellent piece written by Ed Condon and entitled “Pope Francis and the death penalty: a change in doctrine or circumstances?”  In the article, Condon delves into the confusion some may have regarding whether or not this announcement is “the development of doctrine”or if it is an outright change in position on the issue of the death penalty.  Several respected theologians debate the issue.

Meanwhile, in the Catholic World Report comes an article by entitled “Why the Church Cannot Reverse Past Teaching on Capital Punishment.”  It delves into the power of Pope Francis “… to change the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that it will “absolutely” forbid capital punishment [because] … Does Catholic doctrine permit a pope to make such a change? It very clearly does not,” pointing to teachings of both the First Vatican Council and the Second Vatican Council.

Finally, there is an op-ed by Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, published on August 7, 2018 by the National Catholic Reporter and entitled “Pope Francis pushes Catholics to actively oppose the death penalty.

Reese looks at the practicalities facing Bishops in the United States now that the Catechism has been officially amended, given that statistics show that the majority of Americans are in favor of the death penalty (emphasis added):

The U.S. bishops will now add opposition to the death penalty to their other lobbying issues. This list already includes controversial positions such as their support for comprehensive immigration reform, universal health care and programs to help the poor and their opposition to the Muslim ban, abortion and gay marriage.

Just as some Catholic politicians have parted from the bishops on these issues, there will certainly be some who oppose the bishops’ call for eliminating the death penalty. One of the things I like about the bishops is that they make both political parties uncomfortable.

As long as the discussion of the death penalty is conducted in the abstract, it can remain rather academic. But once it becomes focused on an individual criminal, passions will flare up. If the criminal is a serial killer, a rapist-murderer or someone who has shot schoolchildren, the bishops’ call for clemency will meet fierce opposition.

In the past, some bishops have opposed the execution of specific criminals in their states and called on governors to commute their sentences to life imprisonment. Now we can expect all the bishops to join in these efforts, and we can also expect vocal opposition. This is a fight the bishops will not win unless their people join them.

 

Will This End Prosecutors Seeking the Death Penalty?  No.

This news from Rome will not stop prosecutors across the United States, as well as the rest of the world, from seeking the death penalty.  For the position of the prosecutor on Pope Francis’ amendment to the Catholic Catechism, read “Prosecutor disagrees with Pope Francis’s death penalty ruling,” where Ohio’s Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters explains the prosecutorial stance.

As for what it will mean for individual jurors, and jury selection, that is a different and difficult issue.  Will prosecutors try and find ways to keep Catholics off their juries?  What do you think?

 

Last month, the American Bar Association released a new report as part of its Death Penalty Due Process Review Project.  The research study is entitled “Potential Cost-Savings of a Severe Mental Illness Exclusion from the Death Penalty: An Analysis of Tennessee Data,” and is available for free online.

ABA Stand Against Death Penalty for Mentally Ill Defendants Goes Back to 2006

The ABA has taken the position for many years that there should be a nationwide exemption from capital punishment for any defendant who suffers from serious mental illness at the time he or she allegedly committed the capital crime.  See, AM. BAR ASS’N RECOMMENDATION 122-A (Aug. 2006).  From the 2006 ABA Recommendation:
Defendants should not be executed or sentenced to death if, at the time of the offense, they had a severe mental disorder or disability that significantly impaired their capacity (a) to appreciate the nature, consequences or wrongfulness of their conduct, (b) to exercise rational judgment in relation to conduct, or (c) to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law. A disorder manifested primarily by repeated criminal conduct or attributable solely to the acute effects of voluntary use of alcohol or other drugs does not, standing alone, constitute a mental disorder or disability for purposes of this provision.

New 2018 Argument Appeals to Fiscal Concerns and State Tax Dollars

This new report supports that position with numbers, specifically a budget analysis for the State of Tennessee if that state  would implement this policy.  According to the ABA, the state would save between $14-19 Million each year if mentally ill defendants were exempted from a death penalty sentence.
In conclusion, our analysis shows that, if a severe mental illness exclusion were to be implemented in Tennessee, it would lead to a saving of $1.4 million to $1.9 million a year. According to our estimate, the state of Tennessee would have saved between $57 and $78 million dollars if this exclusion had been implemented in 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated in the state. While there are limits to this analysis, and an in-depth, scholarly study would need to be conducted to confirm and refine the above findings, our analysis shows that Tennessee could obtain significant cost savings if the bills created a severe mental illness exclusion from the death penalty were to pass and become law.

For more on the money argument regarding the death penalty, read our discussion back in 2010:  “Growing Trend for States to Stop Death Penalty as a Budget Cut – Let’s Watch California.”

The recent issue of Warrior, the publication of Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers’ College, includes an article written by Terence Lenamon and Melissa Ortiz of Lenamon Law — and Laurie D. Goodman,
Executive Director of the TLC, has been gracious to allow us to share the article here on the blog.

We Deserve More: The Story of the Florida Capital Resource Center

This article delves into the Florida Capital Resource Center’s hows and whys — issues of importance to anyone following the issues surrounding the death penalty and capital punishment in the United States. 

Here it is:

We Deserve More: The Story of the Florida Capital Resource Center by Terence Lenamon, Esq. and Melissa Orti…

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/323869771/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-0Ht7UT0ahFw2ISExUmd2&show_recommendations=true

This article was published by the Trial Lawyer’s College ("TLC") in its Warrior Summer 2016 edition, and the TLC owns the copyrights to the article.

Over on Goodreads, there is a list of books on the death penalty, putting together both fiction and non-fiction together in order of popularity.

Death Penalty Book List from Goodreads

For those who like to read about death penalty issues and capital punishment, here are the top ten on this Goodreads list — how many have you read?

1. The Confession by John Grisham 

2. The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham
 
3. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult 

4. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

5. Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate by Helen Prejean

6. The Chamber by John Grisham
 
7.  The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow
 
8. The Green Mile by Stephen King
 
9. I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
 
10. Life After Death by Damien Echols 

There’s a new documentary dealing with the death penalty being offered by Amazon.com, and if you have a Prime Membership, then it’s free to watch.  Note: It’s rated PG-13; lasts 49 minutes.

 

 

From Amazon:

In 100 years, the electric chair has killed more than 4,000 prisoners, more than any other means of execution in America. It has become the symbol of America’s death penalty. This is the story of the very first electric chair killing.

Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn do give riveting performances in Dead Man Walking,and maybe that’s why most people think of that film first when they think about movies dealing with the death penalty. 

Of course, the life’s work of Sister Helen Prejean may have something to do with it, too!

However, there some other really great films out there that deal with capital punishment.  Here are four other great ones, available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu:

True Crime

Stars Clint Eastwood as a journalist who discovers that an innocent man may be about to be executed in a few hours, and so he investigates …. TIck tock. 

The Life of David Gale

Kevin Spacey stars as an activist who’s now Death Row inmate, innocent but facing execution. It’s Kevin Spacey, folks. 

Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman does an amazing job transforming himself into author Truman Capote, who interviews and befriends convicted murderer Perry Smith.  Smith is ultimately executed for the murder of a Kansas farm family.  True crime; this really happened.  Movie includes the execution by hanging and the aftermath. 

The Green Mile

Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan star in a movie where we learn that a Death Row Inmate is innocent, but how can the execution be stopped – or can it?  Eerie things happen.  Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

As discussed in our prior post, Terry Lenamon and the Florida Capital Resource Center he co-founded years ago work hard to help not only those facing the death penalty, but the lawyers out there who undertake the job of defending a capital case.

This means that the FCRC will provide seminars and training to Death Penalty lawyers at no charge to them. For instance, this past summer the Center offered a two-day training seminar in jury selection by the Honorable Carey Haughwout, Public Defendner for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit.

Now, Terence Lenamon is announcing another seminar in this ongoing effort to help capital lawyers.

FLORIDA DEATH PENALTY LAWYERS SEMINAR

Terence Lenamon is offering a single day training course around Florida to attorneys in the Sunshine State who represent defendants in capital cases. 

Death Penalty Lawyers please note that these are free seminars in defending capital cases offered by Board Certified death penalty defense attorney Terry Lenamon for which you can receive Continuing Legal Education credit. 

Hours are 10 am to 4 pm for each seminar.

6 HOURS FREE CLE

Locations and dates:

Miami – 11/18

Public Defender Office

Bushnell 12/01

Public Defender Office

Tampa 12/4

Public Defender Office

Fort Lauderdale 12/7

Public Defender Office

Ocala 12/8

Public Defender Office

Jacksonville 12/9

Florida Coastal School of Law

Pensacola  January 2016 (To Be Announced)

Great series by the Death Penalty Information Center, "50 Facts About the Death Penalty," is now finished, with all 50 Facts online. 

Each Death Penalty Fact has a great image with a bit of information about the death penalty in America, and there are links to additional information on that particular topic for those who want to know more.  Really good stuff.

 

 

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund released its Fall 2014 study of capital punishment in the United States recently.  

Entitled "Death Row USA," it is available to read online here.

In the report, Florida continues to have the second largest Death Row population in the country (only California has more), followed by Texas, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.  

No surprise there, right?