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Letters to the 107th Congress

August 3, 2001

Honorable Patrick Leahy
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On behalf of the more than 400,000 members of the American Bar Association, I call upon you and your colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, in the strongest possible terms, to help ensure that the system of capital punishment in this country is administered fairly and equitably and minimizes the risk that innocent people may be executed.

Specifically I write to urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass both the Innocence Protection Act of 2001, S. 486, and the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2001, S. 233, without delay.

The National Death Penalty Moratorium Act would suspend federal executions while a balanced, national commission reviews the administration of the death penalty. The Commission would be required to report to Congress in two years.

The Innocence Protection Act would improve the quality of legal representation for indigent defendants in capital cases through federal incentives to the states to maintain an "effective system" for providing competent legal services at every stage of a death penalty prosecution. The IPA would also ensure eligible federal and state inmates access to DNA testing to establish their innocence.

As numerous national print-press and television reports demonstrate, public concern about the fairness of the death penalty is substantial and grows daily. In the last eighteen months alone, eleven individuals on death row have been exonerated. More than 20 states have had moratorium bills introduced in their legislatures and virtually all death penalty states have had reform bills introduced and seriously considered. Several national opinion polls show that approximately two-thirds of Americans -supporters and opponents of capital punishment - favor a moratorium on executions until problems with the administration of the death penalty can be corrected. On the federal level, Attorney General Ashcroft recently announced he has ordered the National Institute of Justice to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal death penalty after a Justice Department report showed alarming racial and geographic disparities in its administration.

Recently Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and O'Connor have expressed serious concerns about the fair administration of capital punishment in this country. Justice O'Connor, a long-time supporter of the death penalty, expressed her deep concern that "the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed, " and said that legal representation in capital cases has "too often been inadequate."

This situation is unacceptable in our country. The faith of the American people in the justice system, not just the system of capital punishment, must be restored. The American Bar Association believes that it is imperative that the Congress take immediate steps to ensure that our justice system lives up to our highest ideals of due process, fairness and simple justice by enacting these measures before adjournment.


Martha W. Barnett
President, American Bar Association

cc: Members, Senate Judiciary Committee

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