Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Death Row Delay: Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote an interesting piece on the delay in carrying out executions.  For at least one U.S. Supreme Court justice, the long stay on death row amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

According to Liptak, the average prisoner on death row has spent 13 years there, and the odds of growing old in prison are pretty good.

About 3,300 inmates are on death row in the United States. Last year, there were 46 executions.
According to a study published in 2004 in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 5 percent of the 5,826 death sentences imposed from 1973 to 1995 were carried out in those years. By contrast, the study found, there was a 68 percent chance that death sentences in those years would be overturned by the courts.

Sarah H. Cleveland, a law professor at Columbia and a former State Department official, said there was a gap between the United States and much of the rest of the world on this point. “Although concerns about the human impact of excessive time spent on death row have received little attention in this country, the ‘death row phenomenon’ — including lengthy time on death row — has been recognized as inhuman punishment and illegal throughout Europe since the 1980s,” she said in an e-mail.

In 1978, when he was 27, Manuel Valle killed a police officer in Coral Gables, Fla. Last month, when he was 61, Mr. Valle was put to death for his crime.  A couple of hours before his execution, the Supreme Court refused to grant him a stay—with one dissent. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the 33 years Valle spent on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

To read more:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/us/death-row-inmates-wait-years-before-execution.html

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