Monday, December 15, 2008

Abolition Update

More Recommendations from the Tennessee Death Penalty Study Committee

During a three hour meeting on December 8, the Tennessee Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty worked through more issues and produced more recommendations. The most dramatic of the recommendations made was the approval of legislation to recommend that the Tennessee General Assembly create an independent commission to oversee capital defense services in Tennessee. This commission would be charged with training attorneys and setting standards for those representing defendants in capital cases, monitoring workloads and performance, determining necessary defense services and resources, setting compensation rates, and recruiting qualified attorneys to serve as appointed counsel.

Senator Doug Jackson in his support of this recommendation stated, "Are we seriously going to say that capital defendants in Tennessee are getting good representation when attorneys appointed to defend these cases actually lose money and can't pay their light bills?"
Tom Lee, Committee member appointed by the Governor, stated, "What we have in Tennessee is a system that doesn't work very well for anyone."
With this recommendation, the Committee acknowledged that the current death penalty system in Tennessee, particularly as it impacts indigent defendants, is absolutely inadequate and unfair and makes Tennessee vulnerable to the execution of innocent people.
Other recommendations which the Committee has endorsed:
an open file discovery policy which allows defense attorneys access to all the information concerning a case (such as is currently practiced by Davidson County's District Attorney's office), ultimately limiting the number of appeals that defendants are able to file
the creation of another study committee to examine exempting those with severe mental illness from the death penalty
maintaining the current review of the Criminal Court of Appeals for all capital cases prior to review by the Tennessee Supreme Court
a statewide policy to record custodial interrogations
The Committee will meet again to create a report summarizing its findings over the past 14 months. TCASK will keep you informed of what will likely be the last meeting of this historic Committee when we have that information.

As citizens of Tennessee, we must now demand that our lawmakers take these recommendations seriously and act to remedy the problems. If this new legislature chooses to ignore the Committee's findings and recommendations while the state continues to execute people, then the state of Tennessee will be callously and recklessly ignoring their own Committee findings that the system is seriously flawed. Tennesseans deserve better. Let's hope the legislature is paying attention.

Case Updates

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Cone v. Bell. Gary Cone, the defendant, is currently on Tennessee's death row for the 1980 murder of an elderly Memphis couple. There is no doubt of Cone's guilt. However, Cone's defense has uncovered serious allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, including the withholding of critical evidence for Cone's defense.


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