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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Monday | June 24, 2002

Death Penalty and the Supremes, Part II

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Ring v. Arizona that judges cannot impose the death penalty in capital murder trials. The court ruled that the Constitution vests that responsibility on the jury.

This decision doesn't have the wide ranging consequences that last week's Atkins v. Virginia had on the future of the death penalty. It merely decided a procedural question, clarifying the constitutional roles of judges and juries in capital murder trials. But, it does mean that the death sentences of 150 inmates in five states have been overturned, and the decision could ultimately affect 800 inmates on death row, or 1/5 of the national total.

More importantly, the court has decided to hear an appeal in the case of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman.

It will be interesting to see how the Supremes approach the issue, and how narrow or broad a ruling they will issue. But this case has everything you might want in a capital crimes appeal -- the defendant is black, he is certifiably mentally disturbed, he was convicted based on the testimony of a single snitch, no physical evidence tied him to the murder, the prosecution withheld evidence of Abdur'Rahman's mental illness, and his lawyer was the epiteme of incopetent -- presenting no witnesses and failing to contest the prosecution's theory of the case.

Heck, eight of the jurors that sentenced Abdur'Rahman to death have signed affidavits expressing outrage at the trial, and the way they were lied to.

A federal judge ruled that Abdur'Rahman had received inadequate assistance of counsel, but was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals.

An optimist would view this case as a perfect chance for the Supreme Court to kill the death penalty outright. That is highly unlikely, of course. Instead, we can hope that the court's renewed interest in the death penalty, and new hostility to the way it has been carried out by the states, will lead to increased restrictions in its implementation.

Posted June 24, 2002 09:51 AM | Comments (1)


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