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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Review Finds Huge Problems in Southern Death Penalty Cases

From realcities.com: McClatchy reviewed trial transcripts and appeal records and interviewed lawyers for 80 men and women who were sentenced to death from 1997 through 2004 in those four states. The review found that:

  • In 73 of the 80 cases, defense lawyers gave jurors little or no evidence to help them decide whether the accused should live or die. The lawyers routinely missed myriad issues of abuse and mental deficiency, abject poverty and serious psychological problems.
  • By failing to investigate their clients' histories, lawyers in these 73 cases fell far short of the 20-year-old professional standards set by the American Bar Association. Their performances also appear inconsistent with standards that the U.S. Supreme Court has mandated several times.
  • Appeals courts for the most part have ducked those Supreme Court directives about the importance of quality defense counsel. So far, only two of the 80 death sentences have been overturned for bad lawyering.In 11 of the cases, the defendants already have been executed. Their cases moved through the appeals process without a single judge flagging lapses in the defense attorneys' performances.

In Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi, this poor legal representation is a result of official policy. The states pay no more than a pittance to help lawyers defend their clients, and none requires that well-trained attorneys handle death cases.

Georgia had a similarly inadequate system until 2005, when a publicly funded, statewide capital defenders office began spending whatever is necessary to scour clients' backgrounds for mitigating evidence. So far, none of that office's 46 clients has been sentenced to death.

Overall, the 80 cases that McClatchy reviewed show how poorly these four key death-penalty states fulfill a basic constitutional principle. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

 

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