February 05, 2015

Imaginging a (federal and mandatory?) death penalty only for mass shooters who kill more than five persons

A helpful student alerted me to this notable accounting of mass shooting in 2014 in the United States.  Though I will not vouch for all the data, I still think it is notable (and not all that surprising) that this internet accounting of mass shootings lists 283 mass shootings in the US (roughly 5 every week of the year), and yet only 11 of these mass shootings involve five or more deaths (less than one per month on average).

In addition to finding these data fascinating, I continue to encourage folks to cull through this list of the 53 men  who have been executed in Ohio in the modern era or this latest report from the Ohio Attorney General about the 140+ men on Ohio's death row to see how my proposed reform, if applied retroactively, would impact those past cases. 

February 5, 2015 in Death eligible offenses, Death penalty history, Ohio news and commentary | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 26, 2014

Links to SCOTUS briefing in Hall v. Florida (and extra credit opportunity)

The issue presented to the Supreme Court in Hall v. Florida is "Whether the Florida scheme for identifying mentally retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia."

Here are the top-side briefs:

Here are the bottom-side briefs:

February 26, 2014 in Class activities, Current Affairs, Death eligible offenses, SCOTUS cases of note, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 23, 2014

Doesn't EVERY punishment theory support a death sentence for Ehrlich Anthony Coker?

After a final review of what we should take away from the McClesky ruling, we will turn for our last week of death penalty discussion to the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence which places categorical limits on what crimes cannot result in capital sentence and what criminals can not be executed for their crimes.  Here, in order, are the major rulings in this series:

Offense-based Eigth Amendment categorical prohibitions on the death penalty:

Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977) (precluding imposition of the death penalty for offense of adult rape)

Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987) (precluding imposition of the death penalty for homicide accomplice lacking reckless indifference to life)

Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008) (precluding imposition of the death penalty for offense of child rape)

Offender-based categorical prohibitions on the death penalty:

Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815 (1988) (precluding imposition of the death penalty on offenders under age 16 at time of crime)

Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) (precluding imposition of the death penalty on offenders who suffer from mental retardation (reversing 1989 ruling holding otherwise))

Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) (precluding imposition of the death penalty on offenders under age 18 at time of crime (reversing 1989 ruling holding otherwise))

As I asked at the end of last week, given that the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence precludes legislatures from mandating the death penalty in any kind of case, and thereby requires and ensures that each crime and offender with have individual circumstances considered by the sentencing judge and/or jury, what justifies another set of Supreme Court rulings that preclude legislatures from ever being allowed to even consider the death penalty for certain crimes or offenders?

Contextualizing these matters, consider the qusry in the title of this post as it relates to theories of punishment and Georgia's interest in having the death penalty as a possible punishment for Ehrlich Anthony Coker. For a reminder, here is how the lead dissent in Coker v. Georgia describe the petitioner whose death sentence was reversed by the Supreme Court in that case and the consequences of the ruling for Georgia:

On December 5, 1971, the petitioner, Ehrlich Anthony Coker, raped and then stabbed to death a young woman. Less than eight months later, Coker kidnaped and raped a second young woman. After twice raping this 16-year-old victim, he stripped her, severely beat her with a club, and dragged her into a wooded area where he left her for dead. He was apprehended and pleaded guilty to offenses stemming from these incidents. He was sentenced by three separate courts to three life terms, two 20-year terms, and one 8-year term of imprisonment. Each judgment specified that the sentences it imposed were to run consecutively, rather than concurrently.  Approximately 1.5 years later, on September 2, 1974, petitioner escaped from the state prison where he was serving these sentences. He promptly raped another 16-year-old woman in the presence of her husband, abducted her from her home, and threatened her with death and serious bodily harm. It is this crime for which the sentence now under review was imposed.

The Court today holds that the State of Georgia may not impose the death penalty on Coker. In so doing, it prevents the State from imposing any effective punishment upon Coker for his latest rape. The Court's holding, moreover, bars Georgia from guaranteeing its citizens that they will suffer no further attacks by this habitual rapist. In fact, given the lengthy sentences Coker must serve for the crimes he has already committed, the Court's holding assures that petitioner -- as well as others in his position -- will henceforth feel no compunction whatsoever about committing further rapes as frequently as he may be able to escape from confinement and indeed even within the walls of the prison itself.

February 23, 2014 in Death eligible offenses, Death penalty history, Deterrence, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 21, 2011

Terry Nichols and a few other modern mass murderers who escaped death sentences

Sorry to have played an (evil?) game of guess the murderer at the end of class yesterday, but I think the story of Terry Nichols encounters with both the federal and Oklahoma capital punishment system provides a useful reminder that some (many?) high-profile US mass murderers can escape a death sentence in various ways.  Via his Wikipedia entry, here are the basics of Terry Nichols' crime and how he managed avoid a death sentence:

In 1994 and 1995, [Terry Nichols] conspired with [Tim] McVeigh in the planning and preparation of the Oklahoma City bombing -- the truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on April 19, 1995 which claimed the lives of 168 people including 19 children.

After a federal trial in 1997, Nichols was convicted of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter for killing federal law enforcement personnel.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole because the jury deadlocked on the death penalty.  He was also tried in Oklahoma on state charges of murder in connection with the bombing, and was convicted in 2004 of 161 counts of first degree murder, which included one count of fetal homicide, first degree arson, and conspiracy.  As in the federal trial, the state jury deadlocked on imposing the death penalty.  He was sentenced to 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, and is incarcerated in ADX Florence, a super maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado. He shares a cellblock that is commonly referred to as "Bombers Row" with Ramzi Yousef and Ted Kaczynski.

As I mentioned in class, Jeffrey Dahmer (who killed at least 17 people in Wisconsin) and Dennis Raeder(the BTK Killer, who killed at least 10 people in Kansas) and Joel Rifkin (who kiled at least 17 people in New York) and David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam, who killed at least 6 people in New York) are just some examples of some infamous modern serial killers who escaped a death sentence because they committed mass murder in states without the death penalty at the time of their crimes.

In addition, some other modern mass murderers like Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer who killed at least 49 people in Washington) and Charles Cullen (who killed at least 29 people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania) and Ronald Dominique (who killed at least 23 people in Louisiana) are just some examples of some infamous modern serial killers who escaped a death sentence because, after committig mass murder, they were able to cut plea deals with state prosecutors in order to take the death penalty off the table.

Does this kind of information make you more sympathetic (or less sympathetic) to claims of unconstitutional or just unfair sentencing disparity often made on behalf of folks who are sentenced to death in many states for only one murder (like Warren McClesky and Troy Davis)?

In light of this information, might you support a new federal death penalty law that defined the murder of,say, five or more people over an extended period of time to be a form of terrorism and thereby readily subjecting all of these sorts of serial killers to possible federal capital prosecution if/when state authorities are unable or unwilling to seek a death sentence for a mass murderer? 

September 21, 2011 in Death eligible offenses, Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

February 13, 2009

Lots and lots of resources on Kennedy child rape capital case

Our class conversation on Wednesday confirmed my instinct that there is a lot we can and should learn by extra attention to the litigation and outcome in the Kennedy child rape capital case decision by the Supreme Court last summer.  Helpfully, the blog Sex Crimes has this terrific resource page with lots and lots of links to lots and lots of materials and commentary about the case.

On that page you can find this link to the full Supreme Court opinion in Kennedy.  Here are some especially notable passages from the majority opinion in Kennedy (per Justice Kennedy) that I want to highlight as we continue to discuss some theoretical and practical justifications for the death penalty:

The crime of child rape, considering its reported incidents, occurs more often than first-degree murder. Approximately 5,702 incidents of vaginal, anal, or oral rape of a child under the age of 12 were reported nationwide in 2005; this is almost twice the total incidents of intentional murder for victims of all ages (3,405) reported during the same period.  See Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, National Incident-Based Reporting System, 2005, Study No. 4720, http://www.icpsr.umich.edu (as visited June 12, 2008, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file). Although we have no reliable statistics on convictions for child rape, we can surmise that, each year, there are hundreds, or more, of these convictions just in jurisdictions that permit capital punishment. Cf. Brief for Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. as Amici Curiae 1–2, and n. 2 (noting that there are now at least 70 capital rape indictments pending in Louisiana and estimating the actual number to be over 100).  As a result of existing rules, see generally Godfrey, 446 U. S., at 428–433 (plurality opinion), only 2.2% of convicted first-degree murderers are sentenced to death, see Blume, Eisenberg, & Wells, Explaining Death Row’s Population and Racial Composition, 1 J. of Empirical Legal Studies 165, 171 (2004). But under respondent’s approach, the 36 States that permit the death penalty could sentence to death all persons convicted of raping a child less than 12 years of age. This could not be reconciled with our evolving standards of decency and the necessity to constrain the use of the death penalty....

Society’s desire to inflict the death penalty for child rape by enlisting the child victim to assist it over the course of years in asking for capital punishment forces a moral choice on the child, who is not of mature age to make that choice. The way the death penalty here involves the child victim in its enforcement can compromise a decent legal system; and this is but a subset of fundamental difficulties capital punishment can cause in the administration and enforcement of laws proscribing child rape.

There are, moreover, serious systemic concerns in prosecuting the crime of child rape that are relevant to the constitutionality of making it a capital offense. The problem of unreliable, induced, and even imagined child testimony means there is a “special risk of wrongful execution” in some child rape cases. Atkins, supra, at 321. See also Brief for National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. as Amici Curiae 5–17. This undermines, at least to some degree, the meaningful contribution of the death penalty to legitimate goals of punishment....

With respect to deterrence, if the death penalty adds to the risk of non-reporting, that, too, diminishes the penalty’s objectives. Underreporting is a common problem with respect to child sexual abuse.... Although we know little about what differentiates those who report from those who do not report, one of the most commonly cited reasons for nondisclosure is fear of negative consequences for the perpetrator, a concern that has special force where the abuser is a family member. The experience of the amici who work with child victims indicates that, when the punishment is death, both the victim and the victim’s family members may be more likely to shield the perpetrator from discovery, thus increasing underreporting. See Brief for National Association of Social Workers et al. as Amici Curiae 11–13. As a result, punishment by death may not result in more deterrence or more effective enforcement.

In addition, by in effect making the punishment for child rape and murder equivalent, a State that punishes child rape by death may remove a strong incentive for the rapist not to kill the victim. Assuming the offender behaves in a rational way, as one must to justify the penalty on grounds of deterrence, the penalty in some respects gives less protection, not more, to the victim, who is often the sole witness to the crime. See Rayburn, Better Dead Than R(ap)ed?: The Patriarchal Rhetoric Driving Capital Rape Statutes, 78 St. John’s L. Rev. 1119, 1159–1160 (2004). It might be argued that, even if the death penalty results in a marginal increase in the incentive to kill, this is counterbalanced by a marginally increased deterrent to commit the crime at all. Whatever balance the legislature strikes, however, uncertainty on the point makes the argument for the penalty less compelling than for homicide crimes.

February 13, 2009 in Death eligible offenses | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 03, 2007

Coker and the death penalty for sex crimes

As I discussed in Thursday's class, in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits the death penalty for the crime of rape of an adult woman.  Coker is an amazing read, in part because the defendant, Ehrlich Anthony Coker, would seem to be a poster boy for the death penalty.  Consider the syllabus from the Coker ruling:

While serving various sentences for murder, rape, kidnaping, and aggravated assault, petitioner escaped from a Georgia prison and, in the course of committing an armed robbery and other offenses, raped an adult woman.  He was convicted of rape, armed robbery, and the other offenses and sentenced to death on the rape charge, when the jury found two of the aggravating circumstances present for imposing such a sentence, viz., that the rape was committed (1) by a person with prior capital-felony convictions and (2) in the course of committing another capital felony, armed robbery.  The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed both the conviction and sentence. Held: The judgment upholding the death sentence is reversed and the case is remanded.

You can find the full opinion in Coker at this link.  Also, Wikipedia has this useful summary of the Coker ruling, which include a link to this interesting article.  That article has this useful pre-Furman data on capital prosecutions and executions:

[In the years before Furman, as] a practical matter, the death penalty had nearly withered away for crimes other than murder and rape.   From 1930 to 1967, over 3,300 persons were executed for homicide, 455 for rape, and only 70 (or less than 2% of the total) for all other non-homicidal offenses, including robbery, burglary, attempted murder, kidnaping, assault by a life-term prisoner, carnal knowledge, espionage, assault with intent to rape and accessory to murder.

In this era, executions for rape were carried out exclusively in the Southern states (including the border states of Oklahoma, Missouri and Delaware), and they were carried out predominately on black men convicted of raping white women.  Of the 455 rapists executed, 405 (89%) were black. Professor Marvin Wolfgang's research on the death penalty for rape, reported as "Racial Discrimination in the Death Sentence for Rape" in William Bowers's Executions in America (1974), showed that over one-third of black defendants convicted of raping white victims received death sentences; in all other racial combinations of victim and defendant, only 2% received death sentences.

Of course, the meaning of Coker and the realities of capital punishment for sex offenses is not just of historical interest now.  As detailed here, a number of states (mostly southern states) have enacted or are actively debating making some child rape offenses death-eligible.  And, as discussed in this FindLaw column, in August 2003, Patrick O. Kennedy was sentenced to Louisiana's death-row for the rape of an eight-year-old child.  As I mentioned in class, significant constitutional litigation over the death penalty for child rape seems like a certainty over the next decade.

For anyone interested in broader sex crime punishment developments, be sure to make regular visits to the blog Sex Crimes.

February 3, 2007 in Death eligible offenses | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack