This lecture is titled Our Broken Death Penalty. But the title is misleading, for it suggests that our death penalty might, at some earlier time, have been something other than broken. It has always been broken. And, as you will hear tonight, it cannot be repaired.
Stark racial disparities define America’s relationship with the death penalty. Though commentators have scrutinized a range of possible causes for this uneven racial distribution of death sentences, no convincing evidence suggests that any one of these factors consistently accounts for the unjustified racial disparities at play in the administration of capital punishment. We propose that a unifying current running through each of these partial plausible explanations is the notion that the human mind may unwittingly inject bias into the seemingly neutral concepts and processes of death penalty administration.
To test the effects of implicit bias on the death penalty, we conducted a study on 445 jury-eligible citizens in six leading death penalty states. We found that jury-eligible citizens harbored two different kinds of the implicit racial biases we tested: implicit racial stereotypes about Blacks and Whites generally, as well as implicit associations between race and the value of life. We also found that death-qualified jurors—those who expressed a willingness to consider imposing both a life sentence and a death sentence—harbored stronger implicit and self-reported (explicit) racial biases than excluded jurors. The results of the study underscore the potentially powerful role of implicit bias and suggest that racial disparities in the modern death penalty could be linked to the very concepts entrusted to maintain the continued constitutionality of capital punishment: its retributive core, its empowerment of juries to express the cultural consensus of local communities, and the modern regulatory measures that promised to eliminate arbitrary death sentencing.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Arizona v. Gant, lower courts continue to debate whether Gant represents an overhaul of the search incident to arrest doctrine or is instead a minor tweak. This Note argues that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It proposes that courts conduct a more searching inquiry into whether an arrestee has a reasonable possibility of access to the area searched at the time of the search, rather than apply the more lenient standard that some courts have adopted. This middle ground is more faithful to the policy considerations underpinning the search incident to arrest doctrine, while additionally providing the proper balance between officer safety and defendants’ rights.
This Note builds on the work of Professor William Berry, who has proposed a concept called “procedural exceptionalism” to explain the persistence of the death penalty in the United States in an age of abolition elsewhere in the West. Berry argues that there is a distinctive American faith in the procedural protections afforded defendants, such as the jury trial and multiple levels of appeal, which helps legitimize the institution of capital punishment in the United States. This analysis, however, only takes into account the conviction and sentencing aspect of the death penalty. This Note contends that the actual method by which executions are carried out is equally important in explaining the retention of capital punishment. This Note applies Berry’s idea of “American procedural exceptionalism” to method of execution in the particular context of judicial decisions governing the administration of lethal injection. It argues first that lethal injection as a method of execution perpetuates the notion of a more “humane” death penalty, and second that judicial faith in the perfectibility of the procedures governing lethal injection serves to reinforce this notion. This faith in the perfectibility of the procedure of lethal injection works in conjunction with a similar faith in the procedures governing conviction and sentencing to create an equilibrium that allows for the continued use of capital punishment in the United States.
In the Eighteenth Annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, Stuart Rabner, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, discusses the court’s recent decision in State v. Henderson. In Henderson, the court revised the longstanding legal framework for testing the reliability of eyewitness identifications. Justice Rabner discusses the case law underlying the traditional framework, the social science that prompted the court’s decision, and the revised framework now in place. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of eyewitness identification in our criminal justice system and calling for continued judicial attention to accepted scientific evidence on eyewitness reliability.
Almost twenty years ago, the Supreme Court's decision in Tanner v. United States established that under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) juror intoxication was an "internal" influence to which jurors were incompetent to testify. Since that decision, many states have discarded their diverse approaches regarding the admissibility of juror testimony on juror misconduct in favor of Tanner's external/internal framework.
This Note demonstrates why the policy considerations justifying restrictions on juror testimony are not well served by Tanner's external/internal framework. The Note offers states an alternative approach to the issue of juror misconduct which would better protect both jurors and litigants.
A great gulf divides insiders and outsiders in the criminal justice system. The insiders who run the criminal justice system—judges, police, and especially prosecutors—have information, power, and self-interests that greatly influence the criminal justice system's process and outcomes. Outsiders—crime victims, bystanders, and most of the general public— find the system frustratingly opaque, insular, and unconcerned with proper retribution. As a result of this gulf, a spiral ensues: Insiders twist rules as they see fit, outsiders try to constrain them through new rules, and insiders find ways to evade or manipulate the new rules. The gulf between insiders and outsiders undercuts the instrumental, moral, and expressive efficacy of criminal procedure in serving the criminal law's substantive goals. The gulf clouds the law's deterrent and expressive messages, as well as its efficacy in healing victims; it impairs trust in and the legitimacy of the law; it provokes increasingly draconian reactions by outsiders; and it hinders public monitoring of agency costs. The most promising solutions are to inform crime victims and other affected locals better and to give them larger roles in criminal justice. It also might be possible to do a better job monitoring and checking insiders, but the prospects for empowering and educating the general public are dim.
In this Note, Valerie Roddy studies the continuing hesitancy of U.S. courts to include foreign relevant conduct in federal sentences, despite the expansive inclusion of domestic relevant conduct. Roddy analyzes the courts' principal concerns and concludes that the distinctions that courts are drawing between foreign and domestic relevant conduct are illusory. She argues that to achieve consistency in sentencing and proportional sentencing for international defendants, foreign and domestic conduct must be treated identically. Finally, she contends that distinguishing foreign relevant conduct and subjecting it to a special analysis is best viewed as a means of retaining a measure of discretion in a federal sentencing system struggling with both the potent effect of relevant conduct on sentences and the shrinking judicial discretion over sentences.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), enacted by Congress in 1996 in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, curtailed habeas corpus review in numerous respects, including establishing severe restrictions on prisoners' ability to file successive federal habeas corpus petitions. In this Article, Professor Bryan Stevenson examines the origins, nature, and effects of these expanded restrictions on successive filings. In reviewing the history of the legal system's treatment of successive petitions, Stevenson demonstrates that the Supreme Court's and Congress's choices in this area were shaped not only by doctrinal considerations but also political variables and unexamined assumptions about prisoners and their lawyers. Stevenson uses actual examples to illustrate the apparently unintended consequences of AEDPA's successive petition provisions, including the foreclosure of certain types of constitutional claims and the injection of numerous procedural complexities that undermine reliability and fairness. The Article identifies a variety of potential remedies, including congressional reform, liberal judicial interpretation of the statute's provisions, expanded use of the Supreme Court's original habeas corpus jurisdiction, and alternative procedural devices like Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) and expanded successive state postconviction review. Stevenson concludes that these devices are a necessary part of a much larger process of rethinking America's flawed capital punishment system.