UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
‘Where is the justice for me?’
The case of Troy Davis, facing execution in Georgia
I think this country would be much better off if we did not have capital punishment… I really think it’s a very unfortunate part of our judicial system and I would feel much, much better if more states would really consider whether they think the benefits outweigh the very serious potential injustice, because in these cases the emotions are very, very high on both sides and to have stakes as high as you do in these cases, there is a special potential for error.
US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens(1)
Troy Anthony Davis has been on death row in Georgia for more than 15 years for the murder of a police officer he maintains he did not commit. Given that all but three of the witnesses who testified against Troy Davis at his trial have since recanted or contradicted their testimony amidst allegations that some of it had been made under police duress, there are serious and as yet unanswered questions surrounding the reliability of his conviction and the state’s conduct in obtaining it. As the case currently stands, the government’s pursuit of the death penalty contravenes international safeguards which prohibit the execution of anyone whose guilt is not based on "clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts".(2)
Amnesty International does not know if Troy Davis is guilty or innocent of the crime for which he is facing execution. As an abolitionist organization, it opposes his death sentence either way. It nevertheless believes that this is one in a long line of cases in the USA that should give even ardent supporters of the death penalty pause for thought. For it provides further evidence of the danger, inherent in the death penalty, of irrevocable error. As the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court wrote in 1993, "It is an unalterable fact that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible."(3) Or as a US federal judge said in 2006, "The assessment of the death penalty, however well designed the system for doing so, remains a human endeavour with a consequent risk of error that may not be remediable."(4)
The case of Troy Davis is a reminder of the legal hurdles that death row inmates must overcome in the USA in order to obtain remedies in the appeal courts. In this regard, Amnesty International fears that Troy Davis’ avenues for judicial relief have been all but closed off. In particular, he is caught in a trap set by US Congress a decade ago when it withdrew funding from post-conviction defender organizations in 1995 and passed the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996.
This report outlines the case of Troy Davis. Executive clemency will be his last hope if the courts prove unwilling or unable to provide a meaningful remedy. Time is running out.
The inescapable risk of error