Advocacy on legislation which will restrict the use of the death penalty at the state and federal levels is a key component of the Catholic Campaign. Laws to prohibit the use of the death penalty in cases of minors and the mentally handicapped, and campaigns seeking moratoria on executions have been successful in several of the 38 states which currently impose the death penalty.
On the occasion of the one hundredth exoneration and release, since 1973, of a person from death row, Cardinal McCarrick issued a statement titled (101 Reasons To Abandon the Death Penalty.( This event coincided with the release of the report from the Illinois Governor(s Commission on Capital Punishment which recommended 85 measures be put in place to make it less likely that an innocent person will be executed. In his statement, Cardinal McCarrick cited both the exonerations and the Illinois report to urge that our nation should turn away from the death penalty. The statement also reasserted the Conference(s support for the Innocence Protection Act.
On May 9, Governor Parris Glendening announced that the state of Maryland would become the second state to place a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The Governor said he was troubled by concerns "in Maryland and across the country" about the fairness of a process that appears to be applied in a racially biased manner. These concerns prompted Gov. Glendening two years ago to commission a study to investigate murder prosecutions for evidence of racial bias in the state of Maryland. That study is due to be released in September and reviewed by the Maryland General Assembly. The Governor has decided that no one else should die until the findings of the study are published. The Governor(s action will temporarily postpone the execution of one man on the Maryland death row.
The first state to impose a moratorium was Illinois. On April 15, the Illinois Commission, formed to look into the application of the death penalty system, released 85 recommendations designed to improve the current system. At this time there is no definite timetable for the implementation of the 85 recommendations or when death sentences will commence. The Illinois Catholic Conference is studying the recommendations at this time, as is the Conference staff.
At the federal level, Senator Feingold (D-WI) has introduced legislation that calls for a moratorium on executions of federal death row inmates. The Senator is hoping to hold a hearing on his bill before the Memorial Day Recess.
Innocence Protection Act
The Innocence Protection Act (IPA) is a proposed federal bill that would require:
- that every person accused of a capital crime have access to a competent and experienced attorney, by establishing a National Commission on Capital Representation to develop standards for adequate legal representation, and by setting up a grant program to help States implement such standards;
- that condemned prisoners have the right to DNA evidence testing, where such evidence is available; and
- States to inform juries in capital cases as to whether they have the option of handing down a sentence of life imprisonment without parole instead of the death penalty.
As of this writing, there has not been a hearing held on the IPA in the House Judiciary Committee, although, Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) have both promised to holding a hearing on the bill sometime in June 2002. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing in June 2001 but Chairman Leahy (D-VT) has had difficulty attracting Committee Republicans to sign onto the bill. Recently, Senator Specter (R-PA) the Ranking Member, has submitted his own bill to reform death penalty procedures, which could very well impede prospects for passage of the IPA this year.
Although it will not end the use of capital punishment, the U.S. Bishops have supported the IPA because it will help protect innocent people from being executed. With the reality that a majority of Americans still support the use of capital punishment, nothing can illustrate the need for such protection more than the fact that there have now been 101 people, that are known to have been sentenced to death and then subsequently found innocent.
Domestic staff will continue to advocate the passage of the IPA because focusing attention and generating debate on the bill aids our efforts to move towards an end to capital punishment. However, the legislation is currently stalled. Staff has proposed to the Justice Coalition that a provision addressing victims( concerns in capital cases would help to elevate awareness for victims, who have been hurt by capital crimes, and serve to attract Republicans and Democrats who have not yet supported the current bill. Staff is currently in dialogue with our coalition partners to explore the possibility.
Last year the U.S. Bishops entered into a partnership with The Justice Project, a bi-partisan group of public relations, government relations, and key Hill, staff funded through the Vietnam Veterans Foundation, to advance our goal to end the use of the death penalty in America. With financial assistance provided by the Justice Project, the Office for Domestic Social Development has contracted with Mr. Frank McNeirney, head of Catholics Against The Death Penalty, to assist in this effort. Mr. McNeirney(s efforts have included advocacy with Congress, as well as, assistance to state and diocesan efforts. He has also assisted in the preparation of educational materials for use in parishes, schools, diocesan pro-life and peace and justice offices.
www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/criminal/savindex.shtml, click on Stand Against Violence Policy Agenda, also see the web site of the Justice Project's Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform (www.CJReform.org)
For More Information
Andy Rivas 202.541.3190; (fax) 202.541.3339; firstname.lastname@example.org or Frank McNierney, DSD(s Consultant on the Death Penalty; email@example.com.