NYCLU Hails State Court's Rejection of Death Penalty For First Person Sentenced Under New Law

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
July 9, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The New York Civil Liberties Union today hailed a decision by the New York Court of Appeals vacating the death sentence imposed on Darrel Harris, who was the first person to be sentenced to death under the death penalty statute enacted in New York in 1995.

“”In rejecting a death sentence for Darrel Harris, the Court of Appeals has made it clear that it will closely examine any death sentence imposed in New York,”” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU, which had submitted a friend-of-the-court brief calling upon the Court of Appeals to bar the execution of Harris.

The Court of Appeals vacated Harris’s death sentence on the grounds that Harris was tried at a time when the death penalty statute still contained plea-bargaining provisions that later were held to be unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals in Hynes v. Tomei. The NYCLU also had filed a brief in that case asking the court to invalidate those provisions.

In today’s decision, the Court of Appeals declined to address the issue of whether the death penalty on its face is unconstitutional in New York State. However, the court will be forced to address that issue in future cases.

“”We are encouraged by today’s decision and we will continue to challenge the application of the death penalty in New York,””said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU and author of the group’s briefs submitted in the Hynes and Harris cases.

The ACLU believes that capital punishment violates the Constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment and equal protection of the laws. To learn more about why the ACLU thinks the death penalty is wrong, go to /DeathPenalty/DeathPenaltyMain.cfm

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