The practice of Government sponsored execution simply has no place in a modern criminal justice system. As you just heard from my colleague from Amnesty International, most of the Nations on this planet that share America’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law have consigned the practice to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.
But from the unique perspective of the nations criminal defense bar, I am here to tell you that there is no-one, no-one who more tellingly appreciates, who knows from day-to-day experience better, than criminal defense lawyers, that the criminal justice system is fallible.
It is a system run by humans, and therefore it is marred by human imperfection. This affects the law enforcement agents and police officers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, witnesses and yes, criminal defense lawyers as well.
There is a case where an execution is set for today in Georgia where the facts compellingly suggest the fallibility of human behaviour including by the defense lawyer.
The systems is rife with human error at every stage, from the investigation, through the initial encounters between law enforcement and suspects, and in every point in the process thereafter.
It produces arbitrary, sometimes irrational outcomes, and it perpetuates racial and ethnic disparity. It sanctions law enforcement practices and tactics that can taint identification evidence, produce questionable custodial statements, and permits the purchase of dubious witness testimony for promises of leniency.
It also imbues prosecutors with unilateral control over information that may be favorable to an accused person. Information that all too often, and this is documented in case after case, all too often is either not produced to the accused or his counsel, or is produced too late to do any good.
My organisation, NACDL recently conducted a study of how favorable information is handled by the courts, it’s a study called “Material Indifference” and we found results that courts rarely provide remedies when favorable evidence has been withheld but startlingly the report found that the situation is far worse in cases involving capital punishment.
Simply put, in the absence of human perfection, a goal which is unattainable by mortals, capital punishment is itself a crime. It is time to let go of it.
Click for video Norman L. Reimer Executive Director, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers