After studying the death penalty systems of eight states over the past three years, the American Bar Association (ABA) has renewed its call for a nationwide halt to executions.
“After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed,” said ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project chairman Stephen F. Hanlon in a press release this week. “The death penalty system is rife with irregularity.”
The ABA conducted death penalty assessments and found serious problems in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. The studies were conducted by independent teams of former judges, attorneys, and academic researchers. Each state failed to meet basic standards established by the ABA to ensure fairness and to minimize the risk that innocent persons could be executed.
Among the key problems common to all of these states were the following:
Spotty collection and preservation of DNA evidence, which has been used to exonerate more than 200 people, including many who were on death row;
Misidentification by eyewitnesses;
False confessions from defendants; and,
Persistent racial disparities that make death sentences more likely when victims are white.
The ABA’s assessment report on Alabama was released in June 2006. Citing Alabama’s failure to provide defense counsel for state state-postconviction, lack of statutes providing for DNA testing and protecting intellectually disabled persons from execution, and judicial override among the most critical of the state’s problems, the assessment team concluded that Alabama should impose a moratorium until it resolved these issues. In the absence of reform, the ABA found that the State of Alabama cannot ensure fairness or accuracy in death penalty cases.
The Tuscaloosa News has also called for a halt to executions in Alabama until the state can fix these problems.