News Release

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.

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.