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On March 20, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major decision in Martinez v. Ryan concerning the conduct of counsel in state post-conviction proceedings. Although the Court declined to reconsider its prior holding that there is no constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel in state post-conviction proceedings, the Court announced an equitable rule that has the potential to impact death row prisoners across the country.
On April 25, 2012, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law abolishing capital punishment in Connecticut, replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. The law is effective immediately, although repeal is not retroactive. Eleven individuals will remain on death row in Connecticut, their sentences unaffected by the law.
On March 21, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings holding that there is a federal constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel in the negotiation and acceptance of plea bargains. Although these opinions provided important recognition both of the prominent role that plea bargaining plays in the criminal justice system and of the importance of effective legal representation during that process, the Court granted wide discretion to trial court judges to determine the remedy when a defendant’s rights have been violated.
In a landmark decision issued April 20, 2012, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks commuted the death sentence of Marcus Robinson to life without parole, finding that race was a significant factor in prosecutors’ decisions to exercise peremptory juror strikes, both in Mr. Robinson’s case specifically and more generally in death penalty cases throughout the county and state.
Sodium thiopental has been in short supply since the only U.S. manufacturer, Hospira, Inc., suspended production in 2010 due to concerns about its use in executions. In early 2011, Hospira announced it would halt production of sodium thiopental permanently. The shortage has forced several states to find an alternative to sodium thiopental or sources of the drug outside of the United States.
On February 4, 2012, during the ABA midyear meeting in New Orleans, the Death Penalty Representation Project co-sponsored an event entitled “Prosecutorial Accountability in the Post-Connick v. Thompson Era: Reforms and Solutions.”
On May 18, 2012, the Project attended a breakfast meeting to discuss the importance of effective representation in death penalty cases at the William Kenzo Nakamura United States Courthouse in Seattle, Washington.
Each year the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project celebrates the work of volunteer death penalty lawyers at its Volunteer Recognition Event. This year’s event will be held during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, August 2-5, 2012.