Intractable Obstacles

January 5, 2010

Last year ended with the news of a record low number of death sentences, and with the decision by the American Law Institute, described today in the New York Times, to give up trying to fix our broken capital punishment system.  The Institute, a collection of thousands of judges, lawyers and law professors, is very influential, in that it creates model penal codes which often serve as the basis for the real-life laws under which we live.  

The Institute created the “modern” death penalty system that the US Supreme Court endorsed in 1976.  But a report detailing factors we are already all too familiar with – persistent racial bias, inadequate defense, wrongful convictions, and a politicized judiciary – caused the Institute to vote to abandon capital punishment, citing “… intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”  

This doesn’t mean that the death penalty in the US will suddenly cease to exist; the deliberate and thoughtful analysis of the American Law Institute will not have an immediate impact in states where killing prisoners is routine and done without much thought at all.

Executions will continue.  Three in fact, will occur on Thursday.  While the usual suspects, Texas and Ohio, plan to execute Kenneth Mosley and Vernon Smith (aka Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi), Louisiana also has an execution scheduled on that day – its first in almost 8 years.  Gerald Bordelon has “volunteered” to be executed.  The next day, January 8, South Carolina will execute Quincy Allen.  He, too, is “volunteering,” and has asked to be put to death by electrocution.  The state will oblige him.

UPDATE: The state of South Carolina will NOT oblige Quincy Allen’s volunteering to be electrocuted.  The South Carolina Supreme Court has stayed his execution.