MCADP-Fund - June, 2005
GOVERNOR ROMNEY'S IMPERFECT DEATH PENALTY BILL:
- The Governor's bill does nothing to eliminate racial disparities associated
with the death penalty. Limiting the scope of capital crimes does not
address the problem of race and poverty.
- The Governor does not define a "uniform standard" for
application of the death penalty. District attorney's may agree
on a uniform protocol but apply it differently since they have
discretion about which cases to prosecute under the death
- The bill gives the attorney general the responsibility to ensure
uniform application of the death penalty but does not provide
the authority to do so.
- Limiting the number of capital crimes does not limit the
likelihood of error.
- In the Governor's bill, capital crimes include:
- acts of political terrorism
- killing a police officer, judge, witness
- multiple victims
- a person previously convicted of first degree murder
- a murder committed in prison by a prisoner serving life
- District Attorneys would feel more pressure to prosecute high
emotion cases even on thin evidence and juries would be more
likely to vote for death in high emotion case.
- Moreover, the bill would likely be expanded to include more
categories. Some opponents of the bill, including the current
Attorney General, complain the Governor's bill is too narrow.
- Although the governor claims the bill is scientifically foolproof,
it only contains one sentence about scientific evidence: "[a]t
the sentencing phase of the capital murder trial, as a
prerequisite to the imposition of the death penalty ...the jury
is required to find that there is conclusive scientific physical
or associative evidence reaching a high level of scientific
- Human error removes scientific certainty from any analysis.
Washington Post article and
New York Times article.
- Even the Governor's Council on Capital Punishment concluded
that scientifically certain links between defendant and victim
might not necessarily prove the defendant's guilt.
- The bill does NOT limit the "scientific evidence" to DNA, which
has a lower error rate than other physical evidence, but is also
less available in homicides. Therefore, the Governor's bill is
no different from current prosecutions except that conviction
may result in the death penalty.
- Crimes utterly lacking in any physical evidence would not be
eligible for the death penalty even if they meet the Governor's
- Although the bill includes a review of scientific evidence by an
independent panel after a defendant has been sentenced to
death, the panel has no authority to implement its conclusions
and it is unclear how their finding might be used.
- Under the Governor's bill, jurors will not always have to find
there is "no doubt" before imposing a death sentence. A
defendant choosing the two-trial process, will be deemed to
waive his/her right to lingering doubt as to guilt in the
- Defendants most likely to seek a second jury will include those
who have a reasonable basis to contest guilt, but will face the
sentencing process with jurors barred from considering
lingering doubts about guilt.
- All jurors in the sentencing phase would be death penalty