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.
Innocence Protection Act
The Innocence Protection Act (IPA) is a proposed federal law designed to upgrade the quality of lawyers assigned to indigent defendants in capital cases and to make DNA testing more readily available to death row inmates.
The IPA was introduced in March 2001 as S.486 in the Senate and as H.R. 912 in the House of Representatives.
On July 18, 2002, the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed the bill by a 12-7 vote. It now awaits action by the full Senate.
As of mid-July 2002, more than 55 percent of the members of the House of Representatives had become cosponsors of H.R.912, but the measure was stalled in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime. Efforts are underway to convince house leaders to move the bill out of that subcommittee so t6hat it can be voted upon by the full House membership.
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.
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 Capitol Punishment, 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; email@example.com or Frank McNeirney, DSD(s Consultant on the Death Penalty; firstname.lastname@example.org.