Currently the federal government (including the military) and 35 states have statutes authorizing the use of the death penalty. As of January 23 of this new year, there are 3,383 inmates on death row across the United States. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, there have been approximately 1,006 inmates put to death. In that same time period, 122 people have been released from death row in 25 states with evidence of their innocence, and 220 death row inmates have been granted clemency because of doubts about their guilt or concerns about the death penalty process.
S. 1088, The Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005 (SPA), is still pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was introduced by Senator Kyl (R-AZ) on May 19 of 2005 and was amended by the Chairmans substitute bill on July 28. The legislation attempts to streamline current law and habeas corpus procedures in order to speed up the execution process. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is opposed because the proposed bill would dramatically diminish the federal courts ability to consider habeas corpus petitions in death penalty cases, even in cases of actual innocence. Chairman Specter (R-PA) has not announced when the bill will be finally be voted on in Committee but it could be any time. Staff will continue to monitor developments as they occur.
As of this writing, Congress has still not agreed to final language regarding H.R. 3199, the Patriot Reauthorization Act. Congressional staffs report that most of the death penalty related provisions have been removed or watered down. However, there is still the possibility that harmful death penalty provisions may be re-inserted while the negotiations are continuing.
The provisions that could re-emerge include:
- A proposal that a non-unanimous sentencing verdict would allow prosecutors to re-impanel a new jury and seek the death penalty once more. Current law requires a unanimous verdict in order to impose he death penalty,
- The legislation would also allow a sentencing jury of fewer than twelve members, making it easier for the prosecution to secure a unanimous verdict in favor of death.
- The House provisions also increase the number of death penalty-eligible terrorism related crimes. Whereas under current law, the death penalty can be imposed in approximately 20 terrorism-related crimes, the legislation could expand the number of terrorism-related crimes that carry the death penalty to about 60.
Supreme Court Action
On December 7, 2005, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of Kansas' death penalty law. The issue in contention is a state statute which requires that a death sentence must be imposed if a jury finds that aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances have equal weight. In the case of Kansas v. Marsh the statute was followed, the jury found the aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances to be of equal weight, and the jury was told they had to impose a death sentence. Because a decision by the High Court is not expected until February or March, the state of Kansas cannot carry out any executions in the meantime. Should the Supreme Court decide that such a statute is unconstitutional; the Kansas Legislature would have to fix the law before the state could resume executions.
Since 1980, the U.S. Catholic bishops have taken a strong and principled position against the use of the death penalty in the United States. The Catholic Church opposes the use of the death penalty not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes, but for how it affects society. Last November, the U.S. Catholic Bishops affirmed this position in their statement A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death. This statement complements the efforts of the Catholic Church for many years and is a part of a comprehensive Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty launched in March of 2005. Moreover, Pope John Paul II, in both The Gospel of Life and the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church, stated that our society has adequate alternative means today to protect society from violent crime without resorting to capital punishment.
What You Can Do
- Urge the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to oppose the provision of the Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005.
- Watch for ALERTS on the Patriot Reauthorization Act when it begins to move in the Senate
- Use the resources and materials available for The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty (see: www.ccedp.org).
For More Information
Andy Rivas 202-541-3190; (fax) 202-541-3339; firstname.lastname@example.org.