Right to Counsel and the Death Penalty in Michigan Term Paper

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Death Penalty in Michigan

There are, at present, 38 states with the death penalty and 12 without (deathpenaltyinfo.org 2004). Michigan is one of the 12. From 1976, there have been 906 executions in the U.S.: 517 were white, 310 blacks; 57 hispanic; and 22, other races. More than 80% of these cases involved white victims, although only 50% of murder victims were white. Case studies on race showed that 96% had racial undertones, whereby 98% of the chief district attorneys were white and only 1% were black. Another study conducted in Philadelphia revealed that more blacks were given the death penalty than white and other races at 38%. Still another study conducted in North Carolina said that the death sentence went up by 3.5 times when the victims were white (deathpenaltyinfo.org). Records show that 37 states with the death penalty used lethal injection method in 739 executions, 151 by electrocution, 11 by gas chamber, 3 by hanging and 2 by firing squad.

Surveys of top academic criminological societies said that 84% of these experts did not consider the death penalty a deterrent to murder. Police chiefs also revealed in a 1995 Hart Research that they did not believe it was an effective law enforcement tool. Yet Gallup polls favored it at 64% over 32% against it. The public also preferred it at 53% against life without parole at 44%.There are currently 11 states with more than 100 death row inmates, led by California at 843, Texas with 458 and Florida with 381. There are, at present, 3,503 death convicts, some of whom are sentenced in more than one state.

The death penalty costs a lot. The state of Kansas discovered that it spent 70% more on death penalty cases than on comparable non-capital cases, which include incarceration. The Indiana Criminal Law Study Commission calculated its total death penalty costs as exceeding those of life without parole by approximately 38%, and on assumption that the death sentences were overturned and reduced to life imprisonment.

North Carolina spent over $2.18 million per execution against the costs of a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of life imprisonment. Most of these costs were incurred during trial. Florida spent $51 million a year over and beyond what it cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life imprisonment without parole. It cost Florida $24 million for each of the 44 executions it had since 1978. Texas shelled out $2.3 million on the average, or thrice the cost of life imprisonment in a single maximum cell for 40 years. And California spent $90 million every year beyond ordinary costs of operations of the justice system. Of this total, $78 million went out at the trial level.

Last year, a Michigan House Committee voted in a way that marked the first step in lifting the state's 18-year ban on capital punishment (prodeathpenalty.com 2003). The House Regulatory Reform Committee voted 6-4 in favor of a death penalty resolution for a statewide vote that August. The case was the February 16 shooting of two Detroit police officers and was sponsored by Larry Julian of Lennon limited the death penalty to first-degree murder cases with demonstrated moral certainty of the defendant's guilt. First-degree murders in Michigan are punished with life imprisonment without parole. A statewide survey showed that only 45% of the majority now supports the death penalty. The Michigan Catholic Conference, a pressure group that lobbied against the measure, insisted that the death penalty was a "simplistic solution" to crime problems (prodeathpenalty.com).The House Resolution needs a 2/3 majority vote in the Senate and the House, which appeared difficult to obtain. Dissenting Rep Paul Gieleghem of Clinton Township wanted mental retardates and juvenile offenders exempted from it, if a judge or a jury would determine the capital punishment and what "moral certainty" meant.

Senator Russell Feingold filed the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2000 to effect an immediate pause on executions in the country while a national blue ribbon commission reviewed the administration of the death penalty. It was to obligate that jurisdictions imposing it would do so with justice, fairness and due process (Feingold 2000). The bill noted that, since the reinstatement of the modern death penalty, 87 were freed from the death row and who were later proved innocent. That meant 1 innocent person out of every 7 executed. With more than 3,000 convicts in the death row, the bill emphasized that there would be many innocent persons among them. The Senator complimented the work of Illinois Governor George Ryan in freeing innocent persons from the death row through modern DNA testing of forensic evidence. Unfortunately, only Illinois and New York could access DNA testing for death row inmates.

Senator Feingold's bill noted other flaws in the justice system, such as racial prejudice, discrimination against the poor and the minorities and inefficiency or inadequacy of defense counsel that plagued it. He added that at least 17 city and county governments have passed similar moratorium resolutions, including Alabama, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington.

In its 1963 decision in Gideon v Wainwright, the Supreme Court stressed that the Constitution guarantees every person charged with a felony the "right to an attorney" even if he or she cannot afford one. Later rulings specified and require "competent" representation. But it is noted that this promise had remained quite unfulfilled because the legal representation received by poor defendants was still inadequate (Tierney 2003). Many of the states with the death penalty had no indigent defense system and relied on court-appointed lawyers and without observing a standard for competency, as guaranteed by the Supreme Court. A solid example of the inadequacy occurred in the case of Delma Banks, Jr., a poor man from Texas, who would have been executed if it were not for the last-minute stay obtained for him by former FBI director and U.S. District Judge William Sessions from the Supreme Court themselves. Judge Sessions said: "When a criminal defendant is forced to pay with his life for his lawyer's errors, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system as a whole is undermined." Banks' lawyer did not effectively cross-examine the informant or investigate the case, or he would have known that Blacks was elsewhere at the time of the crime. The lawyer did not challenge the one-day trial systematically held by the prosecutors, so that one day later, Banks was sentenced to death as a "future danger to society." Banks' lawyer did not refute the state's claim despite the fact that his client had no criminal history of violence on record.

In a Tennessee case, the lawyer of the defendant did not offer a closing argument in behalf of his client. In other cases, the lawyer was either unaware of the governing law, was drunk or even asleep. The American Bar Association observed that no state meets its own standards for competent counsel in a dearth case (Tierney). Judges simply appointed a counsel who first got the case through the system, rather than one who would most zealously defend the rights of the accused.

In Georgia, a judge appointed a newly admitted bar member to handle a death case on her fifth day of practice. Another lawyer, who handled real estate cases from home, asked to be relieved of his duties of representing juveniles because he did not have the experience, but the judge denied his petition. Still another court-appointed lawyer had 94 cases scheduled for trial in a single day and most were resolved through hastily negotiated pleas, none of which went to trial.

An innocent 19-year-old stayed behind bars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania because his public attorney did not have the time and other resources to visit or investigate his case. A 23-year-old retardate in Connecticut similarly stayed behind bars for 18 months after his public defender advised him plead guilty to an attempted robbery charge. The lawyer was not aware that his client was mentally disabled and incompetent to stand trial. A Kentucky judge, on the other hand, had difficulty locating or assigning a lawyer to represent Gregory Wilson on his death case after a state law fixed attorneys' fees at $2,500. A local indigent defense program offered to raise the money for the defendant by sponsoring a cruise to the Ohio River, but the judge instead posted a courthouse sign, saying, "Please help. Desperate." A lawyer later came forward but he was later discovered to have been indicted for receiving stolen property (Tierney).

The high cost of providing legal representation in federal death cases depended on the heavy demands on the time and skill of the counsel as well as the increase in federal criminal cases with the potential sentence of death (U.S. Court 1998). That high cost was determined by the number of hours needed by the attorney to discharge his or her ethical obligation to the client, his hourly compensation rate, and the nature, type and cost of investigative and expert services required by the case. In order to control these costs and…[continue]

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