NO DOUBT V. REASONABLE DOUBT IN THE COURTS
|----- Original Message -----
From: Taoss - Sherry Swiney
To: PATRICK Crusade
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2004 7:25 PM
Subject: No doubt vs. Reasonable doubt in the courts
<<The committee would impose a higher burden of proof than the standard "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" in the sentencing phase, asking jurors to determine that "no doubt" exists before imposing death.>> I believe such a rule would practically eliminate death sentencing and if this rule would filter down to other cases, there would be far fewer innocent people convicted.
Monday, May 03, 2004, 12:00 A.M. Pacific
By Jonathan Finer
BOSTON - A group of scientists and legal experts appointed by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney has agreed on guidelines for crafting a death-penalty law for Massachusetts, which abolished capital punishment two decades ago and has not executed anyone since 1947.
The report, which is scheduled for release today by the Governor's Council on Capital Punishment, says the new guidelines are "as narrowly tailored, and as infallible, as humanly possible." It says that the death penalty should be restricted to a narrow subsection of murder cases and that scientific evidence should be required for a person to be put to death.
"My belief is that nothing this extensive has ever been tried before, and this will have great impact across the country," said Frederick Bieber, a geneticist at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the committee's co-chairman.
Massachusetts is one of 12 states that does not have the death penalty. A recent string of Republican governors has attempted to enact it, but support among lawmakers has steadily declined since 1997, when a death-penalty bill fell short by one vote in the legislature.
A Romney aide who provided an advance copy of the report said the governor would not comment before a press conference scheduled for today.
Introducing the council last September, Romney told reporters that he would soon propose "a new death-penalty bill that puts science above all other considerations" and addresses the "flaws" in the application of capital punishment elsewhere.
The 11-member committee was not asked to make a recommendation about whether the penalty should be reinstated but rather to determine how best to administer it. Committee members called on specialists from a broad spectrum of disciplines and reviewed thousands of documents.
Among the 10 suggested guidelines is a requirement that to impose the death penalty during the sentencing phase of a murder trial, the jury must find conclusive "scientific, physical or other associative evidence." Such evidence includes "DNA, photographs, video and audiotapes, fingerprints, and certain impression evidence such as footwear impressions, tire impressions, tool marks, firearms-related impressions and other physical pattern matches."
The committee would impose a higher burden of proof than the standard "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" in the sentencing phase, asking jurors to determine that "no doubt" exists before imposing death.
It would also restrict crimes punishable by death to murders committed as political terrorism or to obstruct justice (such as the murder of a witness in a criminal trial), those involving torture, and those with multiple victims.
After a death sentence is ordered, the report says, a court-appointed panel of forensic experts should be called on to evaluate the scientific evidence presented at the trial. A death-penalty review commission, made up of state officials, should be formed to investigate claims of error.
The report also proposes that jurors in capital-murder cases be instructed that human evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, can be unreliable, and that those convicted be allowed to request a new jury for sentencing.
Bieber acknowledged that "probably no one can give an absolute guarantee of perfection with regard to any human endeavor," but added, "we are confident in what we have produced."
Death-penalty opponents said they were skeptical of the findings. Nationwide, more than 100 death-row inmates have been exonerated in recent years. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, commuted 167 death sentences in January 2003, saying his state's system was "haunted by the demon of error."
A University of Michigan study published last month said it was likely that thousands of wrongfully convicted people were incarcerated in the U.S. for a range of crimes.
Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director for Amnesty
International, which opposes capital punishment, said that the reforms
proposed by Romney expose the shortcomings of existing death-penalty laws
and that those sentenced to long prison terms for murder or other crimes
deserve the same high standards Romney seeks for
Even with higher standards in place, Rubenstein said, mistakes will continue, because even scientific evidence has been proven fallible.
"The system is simply too flawed to fix," he said. "We are still relying on the vagaries of human nature, and there's nothing Gov. Romney can do about that."