Decision of courageous judge will force higher courts to grapple with irreparable death penalty system
Federal death penalty decision another step toward abolition
Washington, DC (July 1, 2002) -- In response to the decision of federal Judge Jed Rakoff today barring execution under the federal death penalty law, Cynthia Orr, co-chair of the Death Penalty Committee for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, issued the following statement:
" ''In light of evolving standards of fairness and ordered liberty'' Judge Rakoff found that the federal death penalty law is unconstitutional because it countenances the execution of numerous innocent people. He rejected the government lawyers'' attempt to justify the taking of innocent lives, which they did by suggesting that the process saved many more innocent victims than it killed innocent defendants. As Judge Rakoff stated:
" ''Such cold-blooded utilitarianism would have been uncharacteristic of Congress, which, experience suggests, is much more likely to favor the Kantian, "Golden Rule" approach characteristic of the world''s great religions. Under that later approach, the relevant question would presumably be: "Are you prepared to apply to yourself a legal process that would execute you for a crime you never committed before you were able to finally prove your innocence?" ''
"Protecting innocent people from state-sponsored execution is a protected liberty which Congress may not override, he said, relying in part on Herrera v. Collins, a case in which the Supreme Court noted in a combination of opinions that the execution of a legally and factually innocent person would be a constitutionally intolerable event. DNA evidence has provided us with information we previously lacked about our error-prone justice system and, thus, its unsuitability to dole out death as a punishment.
"Several states have reached the same conclusion with respect to their state death penalties. The nation should follow suit."
Orr is a criminal defense lawyer in San Antonio. She can be reached at (210)226-1463.