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Monday | July 01, 2002

More on US v. Quinones

Here's the PDF of the judges opinion in US v. Quinones. (Thanks TalkLeft!)

It's a surprisingly lucid opinion, and most of its arguments are extremely persuasive. These two passages get to the core of the judge's decision (citations omitted):

If protection of innocent people from state-sponsored execution is a protected liberty, and if such protected liberty includes the right of an innocent person not to be deprived, by execution, of the opportunity to demonstrate his innocence, then Congress may not override such liberty absent a far more clear and compelling need than any presented here.


Regarding the DNA testing that has exonerated at least 12 death row inmates since 1993 ... the Government argues that, since such testing is now available prior to trial in many cases, its effect, going forward, will actually be to reduce the risk of mistaken convictions. This completely misses the point. What DNA testing has proved, beyond cavil, is the remarkable degree of fallibility in the basic fact-finding processes on which we rely in criminal cases. In each of the 12 cases of DNA-exoneration of death row inmates referenced in Quinones, the defendant had been found guilty by a unanimous jury that concluded there was proof of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; and in each of the 12 cases the conviction had been affirmed on appeal, and collateral challenges rejected, by numerous courts that had carefully scrutinized the evidence and the manner of conviction. Yet, for all this alleged “due process,” the result, in each and every one of these cases, was the conviction of an innocent person who, because of the death penalty, would shortly have been executed (some came within days of being so) were it not for the fortuitous development of a new scientific technique that happened to be applicable to their particular cases.

This is powerful stuff. The judge doesn't even bother addressing any claims based on the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Instead, the argument is as follows:
  1. It is unconstitutional to execute innocent people;

  2. Innocent people get convicted of murder, and are sentenced to death;

  3. Proper due process must give the innocent the opportunity to prove their innocence (even after conviction);

  4. It's impossible to assert due process rights after being executed; therefore

  5. The federal death penalty is unconstitutional.
Note that this case applies only to the federal death penalty, not the states. However, the due process arguments made here apply equally to all levels of government, and if adopted by the Supreme Court would effectively end Capital Punishment.

Posted July 01, 2002 10:48 AM | Comments (0)


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