ACLU Applauds Federal Judge's Intention to Declare Federal Death Penalty Unconstitutional

April 26, 2002 12:00 am

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Joint Statement of Diann Rust-Tierney, Director, ACLU Capital
Punishment Project and Rachel King, ACLU Legislative Counsel


WASHINGTON-The American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project applauds U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff for declaring that he may rule that the federal death penalty is unconstitutional based on the high number of innocent people who have been released from death row.

Given our country’s disturbing track record of sentencing innocent people to death, Judge Rakoff is right to have serious concerns about the application of the death penalty.

Earlier this month the Capital Punishment Project and a coalition of death penalty reform organizations marked an ominous milestone when Ray Krone became the 100th innocent person released from death row for a crime he did not commit. There are too many problems in too many states for anyone to be comfortable with the way the system is working.

In addition to innocent people being sentence to death across the country, a geographic and racial bias has been found to exist among death row prisoners on federal death row. Twenty-one of the current 26 death row prisoners are minorities. A U.S. Department of Justice study completed in September 2000 found that 80 percent of all federal death penalty prosecutions involved people of color. Further, 40 percent of all death penalty prosecutions over a five-year period came from just five of the 94 federal jurisdictions.

Now is the time to heed all of the warning signs and act. The federal government should take the lead in examining the death penalty. The ACLU supports the Federal Death Penalty Moratorium Act which has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI). If passed, the legislation would enact a moratorium on federal executions while creating a high level commission to study the death penalty and proposes solutions.

For more information on the moratorium bill, go to:

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