Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, visited EJI on June 24, 2008, as part of his official visit to the United States this month. Today he released a statement calling on the United States to ensure that the death penalty is applied fairly and justly in states like Alabama.
Alston met with federal officials in Washington before visiting Alabama and Texas. His visit, at U.S. government invitation, included examining the death penalty and allegations of racial bias in U.S. courts. He investigated the disproportionate sentencing to death of African-Americans and other minorities, as well as how conditions in U.S. prisons measure up to international human rights standards.
In a preliminary statement delivered at UN headquarters in New York today, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern about fairness and reliability in Alabama’s capital punishment system, especially the problem of permitting elected judges to override a jury’s sentencing verdict. Given the concern with having judges make decisions in death penalty cases that could have an impact on their ability to win future partisan elections, as well as the recognized risk of executing innocent people, he recommended repealing the law permitting judicial override.
Alston also criticized the severe deficiencies in the right to counsel for capital defendants and called on Congress to enact legislation that would permit federal courts to review all issues in death penalty cases on the merits.