American Bar Association President Calls for Death Penalty Moratorium
William Neukom, the President of the American Bar Association, recently addressed the graduating class at Duke University Law School in North Carolina. Mr. Neukom noted that the ABA had closely studied the death penalty systems of eight states recently and found repeated failures to meet minimum standards advocated by the ABA. He renewed the call of the ABA for a halt to executions until these problems are addressed, calling on North Carolina legislators in particular to pass a Racial Justice Act. An excerpt from his speech follows:
The American Bar Association takes no position on whether the death penalty is right or wrong. But the association strongly maintains that no person should be executed unless that person has a lawyer and received a fair trial. Yet when teams of experts from eight states' own legal communities applied ABA protocols to examine their death penalty systems, they documented evidence of racial disparities, poorly trained or inadequate lawyers, insufficient defense resources, confused jurors, failure to preserve scientific evidence for follow-up analysis and a host of other problems.
This is why the ABA renewed its call last year for a moratorium on executions in each death penalty jurisdiction, until thorough analysis can uncover each and every shortcoming, and the states can rectify the problems.
The death penalty analyses that have been done in select states demonstrate that the promise of due process often remains unfulfilled. Racially disparate treatment of people in our criminal justice system, from arrest to charging to seeking the death penalty, has been and remains a fundamental issue that we must address.
The Racial Justice Act, pending in the North Carolina General Assembly, is an effort to do so, by allowing courts of appeals to consider whether or not racism was a consideration in imposing a death sentence. Legislators should consider whether this measure will advance justice in capital cases.
(William Neukom, "ABA: Stop Executions Until . . .," Charlotte Observer, May 11, 2008).