MCADP-Fund - June, 2005


  • The Governor's bill does nothing to eliminate racial disparities associated with the death penalty. Limiting the scope of capital crimes does not address the problem of race and poverty.
  • The Governor does not define a "uniform standard" for application of the death penalty. District attorney's may agree on a uniform protocol but apply it differently since they have discretion about which cases to prosecute under the death penalty statute.
  • The bill gives the attorney general the responsibility to ensure uniform application of the death penalty but does not provide the authority to do so.
  • Limiting the number of capital crimes does not limit the likelihood of error.
  • In the Governor's bill, capital crimes include:
    1. acts of political terrorism
    2. killing a police officer, judge, witness
    3. torture
    4. multiple victims
    5. a person previously convicted of first degree murder
    6. a murder committed in prison by a prisoner serving life
  • District Attorneys would feel more pressure to prosecute high emotion cases even on thin evidence and juries would be more likely to vote for death in high emotion case.
  • Moreover, the bill would likely be expanded to include more categories. Some opponents of the bill, including the current Attorney General, complain the Governor's bill is too narrow.
  • Although the governor claims the bill is scientifically foolproof, it only contains one sentence about scientific evidence: "[a]t the sentencing phase of the capital murder trial, as a prerequisite to the imposition of the death penalty ...the jury is required to find that there is conclusive scientific physical or associative evidence reaching a high level of scientific certainty.
  • Human error removes scientific certainty from any analysis.
    See Washington Post article and New York Times article.
  • Even the Governor's Council on Capital Punishment concluded that scientifically certain links between defendant and victim might not necessarily prove the defendant's guilt.
  • The bill does NOT limit the "scientific evidence" to DNA, which has a lower error rate than other physical evidence, but is also less available in homicides. Therefore, the Governor's bill is no different from current prosecutions except that conviction may result in the death penalty.
  • Crimes utterly lacking in any physical evidence would not be eligible for the death penalty even if they meet the Governor's other criteria.
  • Although the bill includes a review of scientific evidence by an independent panel after a defendant has been sentenced to death, the panel has no authority to implement its conclusions and it is unclear how their finding might be used.
  • Under the Governor's bill, jurors will not always have to find there is "no doubt" before imposing a death sentence. A defendant choosing the two-trial process, will be deemed to waive his/her right to lingering doubt as to guilt in the sentencing trial.
  • Defendants most likely to seek a second jury will include those who have a reasonable basis to contest guilt, but will face the sentencing process with jurors barred from considering lingering doubts about guilt.
  • All jurors in the sentencing phase would be death penalty proponents.