Sunday, March 25, 2007

Easy like Sunday morning

As happens most Sunday mornings of late, a quick tour around the newspapers:

The Nation looks at the U.S. Attorney scandal & the death penalty:

But long before this controversy shed light on the political maneuvering between the White House and the Justice Department, two of the fired attorneys were engaged in a largely invisible internal struggle with the Justice Department over its aggressive pursuit of the death penalty.

Both Paul Charlton of Arizona and Margaret Chiara of Michigan have been criticized for failing to seek death sentences with sufficient gusto. Both US Attorneys were pressured to participate in an aggressive campaign begun by former Attorney General John Ashcroft and continued by Gonzales to extend the federal death penalty--particularly into jurisdictions without death-penalty statutes of their own.

The expansion of the federal death penalty is in many ways old news. Resurrected in 1988 and expanded by the 1994 Crime Bill, capital punishment was again encouraged by the Patriot Act. Shortly after taking office in 2001, Ashcroft amended a number of official US Attorney protocols for capital cases; among the most controversial was a new requirement that forced prosecutors to seek Attorney General approval in plea bargains that would spare a defendant's life. But it was only when Ashcroft began stepping into federal cases across the country, overriding federal prosecutors and forcing them to seek death sentences that people began to take notice.. . .

"Typically, the decision to seek the death penalty is made at the local level and then the Attorney General has the ultimate say," says Wayne McKenzie, a former prosecutor and program director at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York. "The question here is: How much push is coming from main justice down to the individual US attorneys encouraging [death sentences]? As a US prosecutor, you have certain autonomy, but you also have a certain amount of oversight. There are certain mandates that come out of main justice."

New Hampshire papers are reporting the learning experience by the Courts going on their in its first capital prosecution in recent memory:

Lawyers for Michael Addison, the man accused of killing a Manchester police officer last fall, say execution by lethal injection or hanging is "cruel and unusual punishment," and they will challenge the state's death penalty statute on a number of fronts.

Addison's public defenders have asked the court for additional time to pursue nearly two dozen arguments against the state's death penalty and capital murder procedures, and the death penalty in general, according to several motions filed yesterday in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester. They've also asked that all pretrial hearings be held in public, on the record and in a courtroom outside of Manchester, where Addison would be shielded from photographers when he is shackled and dressed in a prison jumpsuit.

"The stakes could not be higher," Addison's attorneys wrote. "There is no other criminal case receiving greater media coverage. There is no other criminal case receiving more attention from the Manchester community.

"Under these circumstances, the repeated publication of images of Michael Addison in prison clothes, bound hand and foot, will serve as a 'constant reminder' and a 'continuing influence' which will undermine the presumption of innocence before the trial has even started.". . .

Addison's public defenders, Richard Guerriero, Donna Brown and David Rothstein, filed three motions yesterday, including one that asks for additional time to challenge Addison's capital murder indictment and the death penalty.

In an order issued earlier this month, Judge Kathleen McGuire instructed defense counsel to file indictment challenges by May 7 and motions concerning the death penalty by July 9. The defense team has asked that the deadlines be extended to October 26 and August 30, respectively, saying the team needs more time to provide Addison with the best defense.. . .

Addison's lawyers also argue that the state's death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it denies Addison the right to choose whether a judge or jury will hear his case and determine his punishment. A defendant may prefer his case be heard in front of a judge if he thinks a jury would give in to emotion when making a decision. On the other hand, a defendant may prefer that a jury sentence him if he thinks jurors may have more sympathy and spare him death.

The instructions given to jurors deciding a death sentence are untried in New Hampshire - the law has changed since the state's last execution in 1939. Addison's lawyers argue that jurors are not offered a clear standard for deciding death and the state's law precludes jurors from considering certain elements and doubts that could lead them to choose life imprisonment instead of death.

You know the local public defender's office is going to be over worked when the Houston Chronicle calls your proseutor the "leader in seeking the death penalty"

Maricopa County, one of the nation's fastest-growing counties, now has an additional distinction: It is also a leader in seeking the death penalty.

During his two years in office, Andrew Thomas, the county attorney, has nearly doubled the number of times that the office has sought the death penalty, even though the number of first-degree murder cases prosecuted by the county has remained more or less the same for a decade.

A policy change that he enacted has contributed to a backlog of capital cases here that has crippled the county's public-defender system, left roughly a dozen murder defendants without representation, and prompted rancor and demoralization in the agencies that defend capital cases.

"Clearly the system is overwhelmed," said James Haas, the Maricopa County public defender. "There are not enough lawyers who are qualified to take these cases."

The Arizona Supreme Court has convened a task force to address the issue.

  • Press accounts note a legislator "will be reintroducing a bill to reinstate the death penalty in Wisconsin."
  • A day after the Legislature in Nebraska came one vote short of repealing that state's death penalty the state Supreme Court set a May date to use it on Carey Dean Moore.
  • In Georgia, the state House passed a bill making it a little easier to kill. House Bill 185 would allow a judge to decide the fate of a killer if one or two jurors reject the death penalty.
[For the last few weeks the Sunday morning roundup has been cross-posted here and at Captial Defense Weekly. From here on out, however, it will be only available at Abolish!]