As Mounting Evidence Proves Serious Errors in Death Penalty System, the Federal Government Should Call for Execution Moratorium

February 11, 2002 12:00 am

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Statement of Diann Rust-Tierney, Director, ACLU Capital Punishment Project And Rachel King, ACLU Legislative Counsel FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON — The Columbia University study released today, “A Broken System, Part II: Why There Is So Much Error in Capital Cases, and What Can Be Done About It,” concludes that the nation’s death penalty system is “collapsing under the weight” of errors.

The study finds too many error factors throughout the entire death penalty process to suggest a quick fix or to institute a band-aid approach to address the overwhelming inequities. Notable results include the fact that “heavy and indiscriminate” use of the death penalty only creates a higher risk of potential errors. Further, political motivations and poorly functioning law enforcement systems contribute pressure to counties and states to overuse the death penalty.

The more people we seek to execute in this country, the more mistakes we are making, and the greater the likelihood that an innocent person will be executed. Within the next few weeks, the 100th innocent person will likely be released from death row. Given the facts, now is not the time for this country – or any state – to be executing people.

The errors within our nation’s death penalty system — and the chance of executing innocent persons by this flawed system — are so deep and so far reaching that the federal government should take the lead in addressing the issue. Today, the ACLU calls on Members of Congress and Senators to co-sponsor legislation introduced by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-WI, (S 233), to institute a federal moratorium on all executions pending recommendations of a federally commissioned study on the death penalty.

While the federal moratorium is in place, governors and legislators in each state should take the bold step to institute a moratorium on all executions within their states. Such unwavering, courageous action will help our state and federal governments move away from irreversible errors that result in deadly mistakes.

The Feingold Commission ought first to set the standard for establishing criteria to address problems with the death penalty system. Such standards ought then to become the benchmark by which each death penalty state will then examine its own system. The time to thoroughly address death penalty system errors is now. The federal government should be the voice leading the way.

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