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June 01, 2014

ABA offers expertise for DOJ analysis of state death penalty protocols

ABA President James R. Silkenat has offered the ABA’s assistance to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as the Justice Department undertakes, at President Obama’s request, an analysis of the current use of state death penalty and protocols and policies.

The analysis follows the mishandled execution of Clayton Lockett, who died April 29 of a heart attack after a failed lethal injection in Oklahoma.

In May 15 letters to President Obama and Holder, Silkenat said the ABA shares the concerns expressed by Obama at a May 2 press conference, where the president noted the troubling facts of the Lockett case as well as pervasive problems with the administration of the death penalty that include racial bias, wrongful convictions, and lack of proportionality in who receives a death sentence.

Silkenat emphasized that the ABA, through extensive work in this area of law, has “encouraged every jurisdiction that imposes capital punishment to implement policies and procedures that ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly, impartially and in accordance with due process.”

Silkenat called attention to a recent report of the ABA Death Penalty Due Process Review Project, an entity established in 2001 to conduct research and educate the public and decision-makers on the operation of capital jurisdictions’ death penalty laws and processes in order to promote fairness and accuracy in death penalty systems in the United States and abroad.

The report, The State of the Modern Death Penalty in America: Key Findings of State Death Penalty Assessments 2006-2013, summarizes the project’s assessment of death penalty systems in 12 states and includes extensive, fact-based findings regarding each jurisdiction’s current death penalty practices. The detailed individual state assessment reports are available on the project’s website.

The report covers whether each jurisdiction’s practices comport with the ABA’s Protocols on the Administration of Capital Punishment and the Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. The ABA’s Death Penalty Representation Project, the ABA experts on issues related to the defense effort in death penalty cases, led the effort to develop the representation guidelines, which are the widely accepted national standard for the defense effort in death penalty cases.

“I believe you will find that these reports provide thoughtful and thorough analyses of each state’s successes and inadequacies in the administration of capital punishment,” Silkenat wrote. He added that the assessments “demonstrate why all states that implement the death penalty should undertake their own comprehensive studies of their capital punishment systems.”

In his letter to Holder, Silkenat stressed that the ABA believes that the recent report and the ABA’s other work in this area “can serve as valuable tools for the Department of Justice as you begin determining what investigations into the death penalty you will undertake.”

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