Lethal Injection Ruling Distraction from Real Death Penalty Concerns

April 16, 2008 – The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol sidesteps the critical issues surrounding the death penalty debate in the U.S., the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said today.

“The death penalty system was a flawed public policy before the Supreme Court agreed to review Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol,” said TCADP President, Rick Halperin. “It was a flawed public policy while the Court debated the protocol. And now that the Court has ruled, it remains as deeply a flawed public policy as ever.”

The relatively narrow scope of the Court’s deliberations did not address basic issues of fairness, bias, ineffective assistance of counsel or innocent people being convicted and sentenced to death, Halperin said. He noted that the U.S. has gone almost seven months since an execution – the longest period of time without an execution since a 17-month hiatus that stretched from early 1981 into late 1982. We expect and regret that Texas will resume executions with a vengeance, despite the national trend of decreasing death sentences and overall concern about the need for the use of the death penalty in modern society.

“With the probable resumption of executions, we renew our commitment to discuss the critical issues surrounding the death penalty system,” Halperin said. “Since the last person was executed on Sept. 24, 2007 in Texas, we have seen a number of remarkable events. Four names have been added to the list of people freed from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged, bringing that number currently to 128. New Jersey has abolished the death penalty. Nebraska has no effective death penalty after its Supreme Court ruled the electric chair unconstitutional. The American Bar Association has called for a nationwide moratorium on executions. And the United Nations, reflecting evolving trends around the globe, has voted for a worldwide moratorium.”

In addition, Halperin said, California and Tennessee have held state hearings in order to study their respective death penalty systems. Constitutional questions have been raised in New Hampshire and New Mexico and wrongful conviction and DNA lab scandals continue in Texas.

“And that’s just in seven months,” Halperin noted. “The more we learn about the death penalty, the more we learn we can live without it.”

Indeed, Halperin noted Justice Stevens’ concurrence in today’s opinion in which he warned that debate will continue – not just over lethal injection protocols “but also about the justification for the death penalty itself.”