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  • LylaJean
    http://enews.findlaw.com/International/s/19991008/indiagandhi.html -- www.cjjohns.com
    Message 1 of 205 , Oct 8 5:11 AM
    • Christina Johns
      FindLaw Legal News http://news.findlaw.com Tuesday, July 2, 2002 Federal Death Penalty Struck Down By DEVLIN BARRETT Associated Press Writer NEW YORK (AP) - A
      Message 205 of 205 , Jul 3, 2002
        FindLaw Legal News
        FindLaw.com for Legal Professionals
        Tuesday, July 2, 2002     

        Federal Death Penalty Struck Down

        By DEVLIN BARRETT Associated Press Writer

        NEW YORK (AP) - A judge has declared that the federal death penalty is equivalent to the "state-sponsored murder" of innocents - fueling the growing debate about the use of capital punishment.

        U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff found the federal death penalty unconstitutional, ruling too many innocent people have been executed before they could be exonerated.

        Rakoff decided the current law "denies due process and, indeed, is tantamount to foreseeable, state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings."

        Rakoff is the first federal judge to declare the 1994 Death Penalty Act unconstitutional, said Lee Ginsberg, lawyer for the defendant whose case led to the decision.

        The ruling will not affect individual states' death penalty statutes. Thirty-eight states allow capital punishment, although some have not executed anyone for many years. The governors of Illinois and Maryland have placed moratoriums on executions in their states.

        Ginsberg said the Rakoff decision was further proof the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, has begun to seriously question the wisdom of the death penalty.

        "I think there is a subtle shift taking place over the past few years," said Ginsberg. "Some of the more conservative judges are beginning to have serious doubts."

        The government was expected to appeal Monday's ruling.

        Rakoff said in his 28-page ruling that the 1994 law violated the due process rights of defendants. Prosecutors argued the Supreme Court already has concluded that the Constitution's due process safeguards do not guarantee perfect or infallible outcomes.

        The judge found that the best available evidence indicates that, "on the one hand, innocent people are sentenced to death with materially greater frequency than was previously supposed and that, on the other hand, convincing proof of their innocence often does not emerge until long after their convictions."

        He said he based his findings on studies of state death penalty cases, because the number of federal death sentences - 31 - was too small to draw any conclusions. The judge did not cite specific cases.

        Only two people, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and drug killer Juan Garza, have been executed under the federal law. Of the remaining 29, five were reversed. The government said none of the 31 defendants was later found to be innocent.

        Prosecutors had argued that federal death row inmates had greater legal protections than state court defendants, but the judge found the opposite was true because the rules of evidence in federal court are more favorable to law enforcement.

        "There is no good reason to believe the federal system will be any more successful at avoiding mistaken impositions of the death penalty than the error-prone state systems already exposed," Rakoff wrote.

        Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock criticized the ruling.

        "The determination of how to punish criminal activity within the limits of the Constitution is a matter entrusted to the democratically elected legislature, not to the federal judiciary," she said.

        One death penalty advocacy group quickly attacked the decision.

        "The premises he used were false, therefore his conclusions were false," said Dudley Sharp of Justice For All. "It is astounding that he would make judgments based on those studies ... which have so many errors and inaccuracies in them."

        Lawyer Gerald Shargel, who has represented clients in capital trial, hailed Rakoff's ruling as "enormously bold but obviously correct."

        "We've learned that with disturbing frequency innocent people have faced execution," Shargel said.

        Rakoff's ruling came during pretrial arguments in the case of Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez, alleged partners in a heroin ring. They are accused of torturing and killing informant Edwin Santiago in 1999.

        Rakoff had indicated in April that he was considering the decision, and had given prosecutors one last chance to persuade him otherwise.

        Prosecutors urged the judge to resist ruling on the issue until after the scheduled Sept. 2 trial of Quinones and Rodriguez.

        "I think there is a subtle shift taking place over the past few years," said Ginsberg. "Some of the more conservative judges are beginning to have serious doubts."


        On the Net:

        Rakoff's opinion: http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/rulings/quinones.pdf

        2002-07-02     06:32:17 GMT

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