ABA urges death penalty moratorium

Study of eight states finds racial disparities, inadequate defense, crime lab failures

October 29, 2007|By Maurice Possley | Maurice Possley,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The American Bar Association, concluding a three-year study of capital punishment systems in eight states, found so many inequities and shortfalls that the group is calling for a nationwide moratorium on executions.

In a study to be released today, the lawyers organization, which has more than 400,000 members, said that death penalty systems in Indiana, Georgia, Ohio, Alabama and Tennessee - in particular - had so many problems that those states should institute a temporary halt to executions immediately until further study can be conducted.

They were among eight states studied that provided the basis for the association's call to halt executions nationwide.

"After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal-clear that the process is deeply flawed," Stephen Hanlon, chairman of the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, said in a statement.

The study also focused on death penalty systems in Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania but did not find the same serious conditions as noted in the other five. The ABA says it does not take a position on the death penalty.

The study found "significant racial disparities" in the imposition of the death penalty, inadequate defenses for the poor, failures in crime laboratories and a lack of uniformity in implementing nationally recognized best practices in eyewitness identification procedures as well as the recording of interrogations.

"The death penalty system is rife with irregularity - supporting the need for a moratorium until states can ensure fairness and accuracy," Hanlon said. Joshua Marquis, district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., and a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, said, "I think the ABA should drop its pretense of being neutral on the death penalty. ... They are being disingenuous by simply declaring that they want a moratorium. The powers that be in the ABA want the death penalty abolished."

Marquis, who supports the death penalty, said, "There is no doubt that you could always improve on the system. But the things they've cited suggest epidemics when they aren't.

"It is completely false to say that across the board, crime labs are riddled with problems or that evidence is not retained," Marquis said. "There were innocent people on death row. There's no doubt about it. But this idea that the ABA is promoting ... is just plain wrong."

Beginning in 1997, the attorney organization called for moratoriums in states until "a thorough and exhaustive study" could be condicted.

Maurice Possley writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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