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Report: Kentucky’s justice system ill equipped to handle death-penalty cases

Kentucky Court of JusticeFrom today’s release of the findings from the American Bar Association’s two-year assessment of Kentucky’s death penalty:

  • Evidence in criminal cases is not required to be retained for as long as a defendant remains incarcerated, and the problem of lost evidence significantly diminishes the effectiveness of a state law that allows post-conviction DNA testing prior to execution. Such lost or missing evidence prevents exonerating innocent people and can prevent apprehension of the guilty.
  • There are no uniform standards on eyewitness identifications and interrogations, and many of Kentucky’s largest law enforcement agencies do not fully adhere to best practices to guard against false eyewitness identifications and false confessions, two of the leading causes of wrongful conviction nationwide.
  • Kentucky public defenders handling capital cases have caseloads that far exceed national averages and salaries that are 31 percent below those of similarly experienced attorneys in surrounding states. Private attorneys who take on representation of a person facing the death penalty make far less than other attorneys contracted by Kentucky to perform legal services on civil matters.
  • At least 10 of the 78 people sentenced to death were represented by defense
    attorneys who were subsequently disbarred. There are no statewide standards governing the qualifications and training of attorneys appointed to handle capital cases.
  • A survey of jurors serving in capital cases found a disturbingly high percentage failed to understand sentencing guidelines before deciding whether or not a defendant should be executed. This is not the fault of the jurors, but rather the failure to adequately instruct the jurors.

These findings, of course, are not surprising given the recent high-profile legal problems Kentucky’s death penalty system has faced:

Kentucky’s death penalty is too broken to fix. It needs to be abolished.

Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Court of Justice

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