Monday, November 19, 2007

A world of discussion about the death penalty

Often an item on international agenda, capital punishment is again a topic of legal discourse inside the United States.
Views from elsewhere:
Of the 47 states comprising the Council of Europe, 46 have ratified Protocol No. 6 to the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which abolishes the death penalty in nearly all circumstances (Russia's the lone holdout). Nearly all are states parties to Protocol 13, which puts a total ban on the penalty. Ratification of similar treaties in other regions, such as the inter-American system, is less consistent. Last week, as our Opinio Juris colleague Kevin Jon Heller posted, the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly's given its support, by a vote of 99 "yes," 52 "no," 33 "abstain" -- to a draft resolution calling for abolition of capital punishment. For news media at home and abroad, the United States' opposition to the draft was taking "sides with Iran and Sudan"; it was, in the rough words of Der Spiegel, "in bed with dictators."
It's against this backdrop that U.S. discussion's heating up at 2 different sites:
1st is the U.S. Supreme Court. It's considering the constitutionality of the methods that states use to execute condemned persons by lethal injection, the means employed in nearly every state that retains the death penalty. Oral argument will take place on January 7, 2008, in Baze v. Rees, the case whose pendency appears to have effected a de facto national moratorium on executions, although on a case-by-case rather than across-the-board basis. (Nor may this be the Court's only opportunity to mull the death penalty this Term. The Court likely soon will consider a petition to review a challenge to a state law authorizing execution as punishment for a nonfatal sexual assault on a child, Kennedy v. Louisiana, according to a SCOTUSblog report.)
2d is the American Law Institute, an association of lawyers, judges, and academics devoted to the study and drafting of law-reform measures. A current project involves revisions in the sentencing provisions of the Model Penal Code that ALI promulgated in 1962. Inclusion in the Code of a detailed framework for adjudicating the death sentence had the unintended effect of legitimating the decision of some U.S. states to retain rather than abolish the punishment, as Professor Franklin E. Zimring's detailed in The Unexamined Death Penalty: Capital Punishment and Reform of the Model Penal Code. Last spring, 2 other ALI members, Professors Ellen S. Podgor and Roger S. Clark, moved to have ALI state its opposition to capital punishment. Their motion sparked further debate, in the form of: a report from an Ad Hoc Committee on the possibility of future study of the death penalty, in a project separate from the sentencing project now under way; and, from now through this Sunday, November 25, conduct of an online forum on what to do next. Several ALI members already have weighed in on various sides, among them IntLawGrrls Elizabeth Hillman, Mary Coombs (our alumna), and yours truly. If you're an ALI member who hasn't yet done so, log on and add your 2¢ here.

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