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Senate Judiciary Committee to hear bill to abolish Kentucky’s death penalty in on March 1

Kentucky Sen. Tom Jensen

Kentucky Sen. Tom Jensen

Senate Judiciary Chair, Sen. Tom Jensen (R-Estill, Jackson, Laurel, Menifee, and Powell), is holding a hearing on SB 63—which would abolish Kentucky’s death penalty—on Thurs., March 1 at 10 a.m.

The hearing for the bill, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Jefferson County) will be in room 154 of the Capitol Annex Building in Frankfort.

KCADP wants to fill the room with supporters of SB 63. This will be the first time a judiciary committee of the Kentucky General Assembly has ever given a hearing to a death penalty abolition bill. Please come and show your support to end the death penalty.

Joining Senator Neal will be Dick Dieter, executive director, Death Penalty Information Center, and Jordan Steiker, a professor whose research was used by the American Law Institute in 2009 when that organization withdrew support for the “guided discretion” standard of the Model Penal Code.

About the A.L.L and Model Penal Code, The New York Times wrote:

“The A.L.I. is important on a lot of topics,” said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “They were absolutely singular on this topic” – capital punishment – “because they were the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States.”

The institute is made up of about 4,000 judges, lawyers and law professors. It synthesizes and shapes the law in restatements and model codes that provide structure and coherence in a federal legal system that might otherwise consist of 50 different approaches to everything.

In 1962, as part of the Model Penal Code, the institute created the modern framework for the death penalty, one the Supreme Court largely adopted when it reinstituted capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. Several justices cited the standards the institute had developed as a model to be emulated by the states.

The institute’s recent decision to abandon the field was a compromise. Some members had asked the institute to take a stand against the death penalty as such. That effort failed.

Instead, the institute voted in October to disavow the structure it had created “in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”

That last sentence contains some pretty dense lawyer talk, but it can be untangled. What the institute was saying is that the capital justice system in the United States is irretrievably broken.

A study commissioned by the institute said that decades of experience had proved that the system could not reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness. It added that capital punishment was plagued by racial disparities; was enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers were underpaid and some were incompetent; risked executing innocent people; and was undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections.

Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Legislative Research Commission

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