Who conducted the State Assessments ?
Each state’s assessment was conducted by an on-the-ground Assessment Team. To the extent possible, each Team was composed of or had access to law school professors, current or former defense attorneys, current or former prosecutors, state bar representatives, current or former judges, and state legislators. The Assessment Team determined whether the state was in compliance with over 90 ABA benchmarks on the fair and accurate administration of the death penalty. Biographies of Assessment Team members may be found in each state’s assessment report. Assessment Team members were not asked or required to support or oppose capital punishment or the ABA’s moratorium position in order to participate.
Why were the Assessments needed?
Decades after Gregg v. Georgia (1976), in which the Supreme Court held states’ capital punishment statutes constitutional, numerous concerns have arisen over states’ ability to fairly and accurately determine who should be sentenced to death. Lawyers, courts, social scientists, law enforcement personnel, victims’ families and many, many others have weighed in on what problems they perceive to exist in the system. However, whether it be due to inability or unwillingness to take on the issue, most states have not conducted the kind of comprehensive examination of their capital punishment system that is necessary to determine if, and to what extent, problems exist in the administration of that state’s death penalty. Although some states have conducted limited reviews or studies, only Illinois has conducted the type of review that the ABA has concluded is essential to identify and address core problems in the administration of the death penalty. The Assessments Project seeks to assist capital jurisdictions by providing a starting point from which a state may conduct its own examination of its death penalty.
What was the process and what were the benchmarks?
The Assessment Teams were responsible for collecting and analyzing various laws, rules, procedures, standards, and guidelines relating to the administration of the death penalty. In an effort to guide the teams with the assessments, the Project translated the Protocols into an Assessment Guide detailing the data to be collected and identifying ways to analyze the data. The Assessment Guide includes sections on the following:
- death row demographics, evolution of the state death penalty statute, and the location of information;
- collection and preservation of DNA and other types of forensic evidence;
- law enforcement tools and techniques;
- crime laboratories and medical examiners;
- defense services during trial, appeal, and state post-conviction proceedings;
- direct appeal and the unitary appeal process;
- state post-conviction relief proceedings and federal habeas corpus;
- jury instructions;
- judicial independence;
- racial and ethnic minorities; and
- intellectually disabled and mentally ill offenders.