October 29, 2007

ABA calls for death penalty moratorium

The American Bar Association today released findings of a three-year study on state death penalty systems and called for a nationwide moratorium on executions. Currently, more than 3,000 people are awaiting the needle, the chair, or the gallows.

In its detailed analyses of death penalty systems in eight U.S. states, the report highlights "key problems" that make the current system unfair, including racial disparities (more than 4 out of 10 death row prisoners are black, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics), inadequate defense services for indigent defendants, and irregular processes for clemency review. The report also documents serious problems with evidence collection, preservation, and analyses; state crime laboratories are systematically underfunded and look nothing like those on television's CSI.

Of relevance to forensic psychology, the ABA's investigatory committee found that many states do not ensure that lawyers who represent mentally ill and mentally retarded defendants understand the significance of their clients' mental disabilities. In addition, jury instructions do not always clearly distinguish between the use of insanity as a legal defense and the introduction of mental disability evidence to mitigate capital sentencing.

Prosecutors and death penalty supporters are calling the study biased, saying many of the attorneys on the state investigation teams are death penalty opponents.

The full report is available online through CNN.

Chart: Capital Punishment, 2005, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.