An extensive review of Kentucky’s capital punishment system has uncovered serious flaws, prompting the American Bar Association to call for a moratorium on executions in the commonwealth.
A team of attorneys, former Kentucky state Supreme Court justices and law school professors spent two years assessing the state’s death penalty system. In a report released this morning, the team states that they “identified a number of areas in which Kentucky’s death penalty system falls short in the effort to afford every capital defendant fair and accurate procedures and minimize the risk of executing the innocent.” Their troubling findings include:
Of the last 78 people sentenced to death in Kentucky, 50 have had a death sentence overturned on appeal by Kentucky or federal courts. That is an error rate of more than 60 percent.
Evidence in criminal cases is not required to be retained for as long as a defendant remains incarcerated, and the problem of lost evidence significantly diminishes the effectiveness of a state law that allows post-conviction DNA testing prior to execution. Such lost or missing evidence prevents exonerating innocent people and can prevent apprehension of the guilty.
There are no uniform standards on eyewitness identifications and interrogations, and many of Kentucky’s largest law enforcement agencies do not fully adhere to best practices to guard against false eyewitness identifications and false confessions, two of the leading causes of wrongful conviction nationwide.
Kentucky public defenders handling capital cases have caseloads that far exceed national averages and salaries that are 31 percent below those of similarly experienced attorneys in surrounding states…
At least 10 of the 78 people sentenced to death were represented by defense attorneys who were subsequently disbarred…
And the list goes on.
“We came in to this with no real idea of what we would find,” said Linda Ewald, University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, who co-chaired the assessment team. “But at the close of our two-year deliberations, we were left with no option but to recommend that the commonwealth halt executions until the problems we identified are remedied. This report is really about the administration of justice in Kentucky.”
Kentucky was the ninth state to undergo such a review by the American Bar Association, which takes no official stance for or against capital punishment.