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Capital Cases

By Madeline S. Cohen

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District Judge Calls Federal Death Penalty Arbitrary, but Says Only Supreme Court Can Rule It Unconstitutional

United States v. Fell
Case No. 5:01-cr-12-01
(D. Vt. Dec. 13, 2016)
Opinion and Order on Constitutionality of the Federal Death Penalty Act

The federal death penalty is arbitrary and biased, but only the Supreme Court can rule it unconstitutional. This was the conclusion of a federal district court judge in Vermont in December 2016.

After hearing two weeks of largely uncontroverted evidence in United States v. Fell, U.S. District Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford found: “The Federal Death Penalty Act operates in an arbitrary manner in which chance and bias play leading roles.” (p. 3) Although Judge Crawford stopped short of ruling the federal death penalty unconstitutional, believing himself bound by Supreme Court precedent to the contrary, he urged the Court to recognize that its decisions purporting to reform the death penalty “have largely failed to remedy t

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