American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995
James S. Liebman, Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Law, Columbia University School of Law; Jeffrey Fagan, Joseph Mailman School of Public Health; and Valerie West, doctoral candidate, Department of Sociology, New York University are authors of this report which was released in the spring of 2000. In 1991 the Chair of the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary asked Professor Liebman to calculate the frequency of relief in habeas corpus cases. In late 1995, the study was expanded from a single count of cases and their outcomes to a search for infomation that might help explain why relief is granted in so many capital cases. The complete report may be found at http://justice.policy.net/proactive/newsroom/release.vtml?id=18200
There is a growing bipartisan consensus that flaws in America's death-penalty system have reached crisis proportions. Many fear that capital trials put people on death row who don't belong there. Others say capital appeals take too long. This report--the first statistical study ever undertaken of modern American capital appeals (4578 of them in state capital cases between 1973 and 1995)--suggests that both claims are correct.
Capital sentences do spend a long time under judicial review. As this study documents, however, judicial review takes so long precisely because American capital sentences are so persistently and systematically fraught with error that seriously undermines their reliability.
Our central findings are as follows:
Erroneously trying capital defendants the first time around, operating the multi-tiered inspection process needed to catch the mistakes, warehousing thousands under costly death row conditions in the meantime, and having to try two out of three cases again is irrational.
This report describes the extent of the problem. A subsequent
report will examine its causes and their implications for resolving
the death penalty crisis.
Federal Executions Action Alert
While the nation focuses on the Presidential election, plans are quietly being made by the U.S. government to carry out the first federal execution in nearly 40 years. On December 12, Juan Garza is scheduled to be executed even though the Department of Justice itself has raised serious questions about the racial and geographic bias in the federal death penalty system. In fact, the Justice Department has acknowledged that at the time Garza was sentenced in Texas, U.S. attorneys there brought death penalty cases only against Hispanic Americans.
The relationship between race and the death penalty is well documented. Hispanics and African American defendants make up 70% to 80% of the group of defendants recommended for the federal death penalty. Geographical disparities also exist, and almost 30% of inmates currently sitting on federal death row were prosecuted in a single state --Texas. Both the Attorney General and the President have expressed concerns about these studies, and Attorney General Janet Reno has stated that "an even broader analysis must be undertaken to determine if bias plays a role in the federal death system." These questions of unfairness must be resolved before the federal government decides to begin executing individuals for the first time since the 1960's.
Take Action! You can urge President Clinton to declare a moratorium
on federal executions before the end of his term by sending a
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