|This is an archive. Substantive information, including information about ABA policy, as well as contact information and links to other Web pages, may not be current. For the most recent ABA news, contact the Division for Media Relations & Communication Services.|
|Media Contact:||Nancy Slonim|
Tennessee Should Broaden Temporary Halt on Executions
to Review Every Aspect of Death Penalty System
Team of Tennessee Legal Experts Lists Many Problems in State Capital Crime System
NASHVILLE, April 23, 2007 — A team of Tennessee legal experts, working under the auspices of the American Bar Association Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, today cited problems in the state's use of capital punishment that range from excessive caseloads and inadequate standards for defense counsel to racial disparities and inadequate review of death row inmates' claims of actual innocence.
The team concluded that Tennessee's death penalty system is so flawed that a temporary halt in executions should be continued to permit a thorough review of every aspect of capital punishment administration in the state. It urged Gov. Phil Bredesen to continue past May 2 a stay he initially imposed on Tennessee executions to examine protocols for administering lethal injection, the execution method used in the state.
"Gov. Bredesen clearly has given sober consideration to how executions are carried out in Tennessee," said American Bar Association President Karen J. Mathis. "Now it is time for him, and for the state as a whole, to devote even more thorough analysis to how the state reaches the decision to sentence someone to death. The families and friends of capital crime victims in Tennessee, the people accused of committing those crimes, and the citizens who place their trust in their legal system deserve better justice than they are now receiving," she said.
The ABA neither supports nor opposes either the death penalty or any particular means of carrying out executions, but it does urge a moratorium on executions in each jurisdiction until fairness and due process are assured in death penalty cases. The Tennessee report has not been presented to the ABA’s policy-making arm, the House of Delegates, and so does not constitute association policy.
The recommendation to continue a temporary halt in executions in Tennessee is the product of a three-year study by a team of seven prominent state lawyers. Evaluating state systems against ABA protocols for a fair and accurate capital case system that complies with constitutional standards, the team found Tennessee meets only seven of the standards, partially meets 31 of them, and fails to comply with 26 of them. The team was unable to access adequate information to assess Tennessee’s compliance with 29 of the protocols.
The Tennessee Death Penalty Assessment Team included a former prosecutor, a federal judge, defense lawyers and lawyers in private practice. Dwight L. Aarons, chair, is an associate professor of law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, teaching courses on criminal law, advanced criminal law and the death penalty.
The team issued 14 specific recommendations, in addition to urging continuation of the moratorium to broaden review of the state system. They are:
Create an independent commission to review claims of factual innocence, with power to investigate, hold
Create an independent statewide authority to appoint, train and monitor defense, appellate and post-conviction lawyers in capital cases
Require preservation and storage of all biological evidence in capital cases as long as defendant remains incarcerated
Develop statewide protocols to standardize decisions about which cases are charged as capital crimes
Increase qualification standards and monitoring procedures for defense, appellate and post-conviction lawyers in capital cases
Provide a right to post-conviction counsel before, not after, filing of post conviction petitions
Amend court rules to allow defendants to obtain expert and investigative services at any time after being charged, providing an opportunity to demonstrate why a capital charge may be inappropriate
Include in proportionality review cases in which the death penalty could have been sought but was not, and cases in which the penalty was sought but not imposed
Require judges presiding over trials resulting in first degree murder convictions to file complete proportionality reports
Assure each death row inmate an opportunity for a hearing before the Board of Pardon and Parole
Redraft capital jury instructions to prevent misunderstandings
Sponsor a state study to determine if there are disparities in capital sentencing based on race, socio-economic status, geography or other factors
Exclude from eligibility for execution people with serious mental disorders
Adopt a uniform state standard to determine defendants’ competency through trial, appeals and post-conviction proceedings.
The full report and an executive summary, including charts that identify specific recommendations and state compliance levels, are available on the ABA’s Web site at http://www.abavideonews.org/ABA340. Additional information about the Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project and the assessment project is also posted there.
Tennessee is the sixth of eight states being assessed under the ABA project, which developed the protocols in 2001. Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Arizona and Indiana preceded Tennessee. Other assessments are being conducted in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Neither the protocols nor the individual state assessment reports have been adopted by the ABA House of Delegates.
With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society.