On the heels of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights’ resolution for the state to abolish its death penalty, today’s New York Times issued a scathing editorial, “Kentucky’s Egregious Death Penalty,” calling on state to repeal its broken capital punishment system:
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights voted unanimously last week to recommend that the state abolish the death penalty. There is every reason for Kentucky to take the advice and become the 18th state to prohibit capital punishment.
The death penalty in Kentucky is colossally unfair, costly and riddled with constitutional error. From 1976 through last year, of the 78 people sentenced to death in the state, 50 had their sentences overturned on appeal, with 15 of those for prosecutorial mistakes or misconduct.
In December, a report conducted by the American Bar Association based on a two-year review by a team of lawyers, professors and former members of the State Supreme Court found enormous problems with the state’s capital system.
Kentucky’s laws and procedures, the report said, failed to “protect the innocent, convict the guilty and ensure the fair and efficient enforcement of criminal law in death penalty cases.”
For instance, among the state’s 57 prosecutors’ offices, some “will charge every death-eligible case as a capital case” while most others do not. This means that the pursuit of the death penalty in Kentucky is largely arbitrary and capricious, determined by which office happens to be prosecuting the case.
Judges presiding over capital trials often give inadequate jury instructions so that almost half of the jurors interviewed in a long-term study did not understand that they could consider mitigating evidence at sentencing, which could allow them to avoid imposing the death penalty. The system does not protect the rights of people with severe mental illnesses who, the United States Supreme Court has said, cannot be sentenced to death. And there are no standards governing the qualifications for lawyers who handle capital cases, with dreadful consequences: 10 of the 78 people sentenced to death had lawyers who were later disbarred.
In 2010, a state court blocked Kentucky from executing anyone because of “substantial legal questions regarding the validity” of its lethal injection protocol. That ruling alone should be the end of capital punishment.
Kentucky can ensure that heinous criminals are no longer threats to society by sentencing them to life without parole. It is time for the state to end the death penalty.
Did you catch all of those descriptions? Colossally unfair, costly, riddled with constitutional error, enormous problems, failed to protect the innocent, inadequate jury instructions, does not protect the rights of people with severe mental illness, and no standards governing the qualifications for lawyers among others.
And keep in mind, it’s not just that Kentucky’s death penalty is broken—Kentuckians also don’t want it:
- “A majority of Kentuckians support a suspension of executions to allow time for problems within the system to be remedied. The November 30-December 4 survey of 405 most likely voters statewide found 62 percent support a temporary halt to executions. The support was consistent across the state: a majority of men, women, urban, suburban, and rural, Republican, Democratic, and Independent voters all favored a temporary halt to executions.” [American Bar Association]
- In a 2006 poll conducted by the University of Kentucky Survey Center, 67 percent of Kentuckians questioned preferred a long prison sentence to execution for those convicted of aggravated murder. [Death Penalty Information Center]
- 2,012 people, mostly from Kentucky, have signed a petition to end the state’s death penalty. [Change.org]
Call 800-372-7181 and ask your state senator and state representative to abolish Kentucky’s broken death penalty.
Photo: Courtesy New York Times