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View Full Version : Why Do Those on Death Row Wait So Long Before Being Killed?


Spice Weasel
12-12-2007, 10:20 AM
Uh, it was hard to fit the question into a good, concise title.

Anyways, in MPSIMS someone comments on how people condemned to death should get a bullet to the head immediately following the verdict.

My question is, why does that not happen now? Why does it take so long for someone to be put to death? Why do people wait years on death row? Does the paperwork really take that long?

Polycarp
12-12-2007, 10:37 AM
Ever hear of the appeals process? In general, in any capital trial, somebody (often but not always counsel for the defense) has raised objections galore, which have been sustained or overruled. These are all matters of law, suitable for review in a higher court. For all of that, a higher court typicall can, though it usually does not, review matters of fact.

What does this have to do with delays before execution? Simply, a living person may have a death sentence reversed, or be re-sentenced on a lesser offense. An executed corpse is not in a position to take advantage of the fact that its sentence was reversed and its (former) name exonerated.

Max Torque
12-12-2007, 10:41 AM
It's not about how long it takes to process the Paperwork o' Death, it's about appeals.

After a person is convicted of a capital crime, they tend not to accept a sentence of "death" without a fight. They appeal to a higher court, and a higher one and a higher one, trying to overturn their conviction and/or sentence for every reason under the sun, from "this evidence was wrongly admitted" to "my attorney sucked." And resolving those numerous appeals takes years. It's built into the system, and it helps to ensure that the State is pretty damn certain of a person's guilt before the actual execution.

The "my attorney sucked" justification, by the way, has apparently been abused by some criminal defense attorneys as a way to keep their clients from getting the needle. As in, when their client is sentenced to death, they'll claim that they were themselves ineffective and for that reason the sentence should be reversed. Apparently, they felt this was a "good tactic." My state (Texas) now prohibits attorneys who have been found ineffective in a capital case from trying any further capital cases, which ought to curtail the practice.

Keeve
12-12-2007, 10:41 AM
Dito what Polycarp said, but I'll add a little bit:

Consider your use of the word "wait" in your question. The prisoner is most certainly NOT sitting around, bored, waiting for the sentence to be carried out. Rather, he is fighting like hell, with whatever legal arguments he can find, to get his execution overturned or delayed.

Wendell Wagner
12-12-2007, 11:12 AM
And a large proportion of the time they win their appeals. Does anyone have the exact percentage? How often does someone on death row either have their sentence reduced or the guilty verdict overturned?

don't ask
12-12-2007, 11:16 AM
What, they should hurry things along?? Get killed quicker.

Staggerlee
12-12-2007, 11:20 AM
If the convicted person finds the death sentence agreeable and doesn't appeal, how short a time can it be between the verdict and the needle/chair?

brazil84
12-12-2007, 12:00 PM
After a person is convicted of a capital crime, they tend not to accept a sentence of "death" without a fight. They appeal to a higher court, and a higher one and a higher one, trying to overturn their conviction and/or sentence for every reason under the sun, from "this evidence was wrongly admitted" to "my attorney sucked." And resolving those numerous appeals takes years. It's built into the system, and it helps to ensure that the State is pretty damn certain of a person's guilt before the actual execution.

I agree. And as I understand things, once the highest court in the State has affirmed the conviction, the defendant gets to use the "habeas corpus" procedure to attack the conviction in the federal system -- which has 3 levels.

Not only that, but as I understand things, an appeal asserting "ineffective assistance of counsel" comes later if it's the same attorney who did the first round of appeals as the trial.

So there can be a lot of delay.

UncleRojelio
12-12-2007, 12:03 PM
Just this morning while driving into work I was listening to an NPR report about the rising number of exhonerations (Google says I spelt it right, I'm open to corrections) attributed to new DNA testing techniques years after the original conviction. Fat lot of good it would do if the execution had taken place out behind the courthouse minutes after the verdict.

Gfactor
12-12-2007, 12:12 PM
And a large proportion of the time they win their appeals. Does anyone have the exact percentage? How often does someone on death row either have their sentence reduced or the guilty verdict overturned?


Nearly seven out of 10 death sentences imposed in the United States between 1973 and 1995 were reversed due to "serious error" that left the reliability of the trial outcome in doubt, according to a Columbia University study released Monday. http://www.stateline.org/live/ViewPage.action?siteNodeId=136&languageId=1&contentId=14037

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9407E5D7103CF932A25751C0A9649C8B63&n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/C/Capital%20Punishment

pravnik
12-12-2007, 12:14 PM
If the convicted person finds the death sentence agreeable and doesn't appeal, how short a time can it be between the verdict and the needle/chair?As far as the federal system goes, Timothy McVeigh was sentenced in 1997, made a motion to forego further appeal in 2000, and was executed in 2001. There are a few examples from state courts, but the names escape me at the moment.

Gfactor
12-12-2007, 12:16 PM
Previous thread: Why does it take so long to execute in the US? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=349367)

Diogenes the Cynic
12-12-2007, 12:22 PM
If the convicted person finds the death sentence agreeable and doesn't appeal, how short a time can it be between the verdict and the needle/chair?
At least one appeal is mandatory. The convicted person can't waive it.

aldiboronti
12-12-2007, 01:15 PM
Just this morning while driving into work I was listening to an NPR report about the rising number of exhonerations (Google says I spelt it right, I'm open to corrections) ........................

Exonerations (Google will often return thousands upon thousands of hits for commonly misspelled words).

Gfactor
12-12-2007, 01:33 PM
From a thread that now lives in the cornfield:

Longest stay on death row: Gary E. Alvord, who has delayed his execution 31 years over questions of his competency. Alvord killed 3 Tampa women in 1973 after he escaped from a Michigan mental hospital. http://www.fadp.org/news/GS-20050826.htm

Shortest stay: The 27 inmates currently on Virginia's death row have been there an average of 2.8 years, the shortest stay of any state. http://www.courttv.com/trials/sniper/112503_execution_ap.html


Shortest stay in CA: The shortest stay was that of David Lee Mason, known in the peculiar vernacular of capital punishment as a "volunteer." Mason gave up a huge chunk of his federal appeal rights, clearing the way for his execution. He had been on death row for nine years, seven months before he was executed in August 1993 for the murder of four elderly Oakland residents. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/danielle/20020917-9999_1n17next.html

Average stay in CA: 16 Years. Id.

Average stay nationwide (as of 1992): nine years and six months. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~tonya/spring/cap/abel.htm

Recent average: The average length of time for an inmate to stay on death row in the United States is more than 10 years. In California, it's closer to 20, some say due to the time allowance on appealed decisions that inherently provides an extension. http://www.demaction.org/dia/organizations/ncadp/news.jsp?key=1673&t=

Recent Florida info: The average length of time between sentencing and execution in Florida is nearly 12 years, and the number would be much higher if not for a slew of recent "volunteers" for execution who abandoned further appeals they could have filed. http://www.fadp.org/news/GS-20050826.htm

Florida shortest: MICHAEL DUROCHER,
33; murder of his girlfriend and her two children in Clay County; executed after two years on Death Row. He was the first inmate to drop appeals and served the shortest time between sentence and execution. Id.

Longest is Gary E. Alvord, who has delayed his execution 31 years over questions of his competency. Alvord killed 3 Tampa women in 1973 after he escaped from a Michigan mental hospital. Id.



Florida execution statistics: http://www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/deathrow/

All kinds of national capital punishment statistics: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cp.htm

And from a staff report:
In Limone four men were convicted of a murder based on the perjured testimony of a known mobster and murderer. The mobster was assisted in the frame-up by the FBI, which protected him, lied to state officials, and concealed exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. Three of the convicts were sentenced to die but were ultimately spared by the Supreme Court; two died in prison. The two others served over 30 years before being released.http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mwrongful.html

While the delay is an artifact of the appellate system, and not an intended feature, it sometimes helps prevent innocent people from being executed. Many exonerees who originally were sentenced to die were spared when their death sentences were invalidated--not based on the facts of their individual cases, but on constitutional problems with their state's death penalty regime.

Washoe
12-12-2007, 01:44 PM
Also (and I fully realize that this is completely beside the point), the convicted prisoner doesn’t exactly get to spend his or her time at Disneyland while they are appealing their sentence. I only bring this up because every time the question posed by the OP is asked, it is almost invariably done so out of a sense of dissatisfaction at the delays involved in the process. Here in California at least, the holdings cells are 5’ X 7’—less than ten percent larger than a sheet of plywood. For any rational person, confinement in a space this small would be insufferable. Add to that the fact that people with antisocial personality disorder cannot tolerate boredom in any way, shape or form, and you can see that this must amount to sheer torture for the person awaiting appeal. On top of that, there is the knowledge that there are only two possible outcomes to this scenario—either the torture will continue interminably, or it will end in a very creepy death. On top of that, once the appeals are exhausted the convict is then placed in the unenviable position of being one of the extremely small minority of people who have foreknowledge of exactly when they will die. I personally derive no end of satisfaction from these facts.

jackelope
12-12-2007, 01:46 PM
Here in Tennessee, a capital conviction gets automatic, de novo review by the state Supreme Court. If the defendant wants to fight it (as they all do), there are twelve appellate procedures to go through before an execution can take place.

Gfactor
12-12-2007, 02:22 PM
Here in Tennessee, a capital conviction gets automatic, de novo review by the state Supreme Court.

That's probably a good thing.

Researchers found that the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed 29
percent of capital cases on direct appeal. A 2000 study focused on error rates in capital cases. From 1977-1995, Tennessee Courts of Criminal Appeals reviewed 109 capital cases on direct appeal. Of those, the court reversed 32, or 29 percent, for errors madeduring the trials. (See page 23.)http://www.comptroller.state.tn.us/orea/reports/deathpenalty.pdf

If the defendant wants to fight it (as they all do), there are twelve appellate procedures to go through before an execution can take place.

That's a bit deceptive. The "13-step Death Penatly Appeals Process" is outlined on page 8 of the linked pdf (pdf p. 20). In the 13 steps, they include the DA's decision to seek the death penalty and the the state court trial. Those aren't appellate procedures. And after that, it appears there are two mandatory state appeals, which is typical of many states. The remaining steps are discretionary (petition for cert to the SCOTUS, post-conviction habeas in state and federal court). Five of these steps are in federal courts. For those discretionary, civil appeals to stay execution, the petitioner must file a petition to stay execution in order to delay execution until the appeal is decided. The Supreme Court has noted that filing a habeas petition doesn't automatically entitle the petitioner to a stay: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=464&invol=1. The final step is an application for clemency. Those don't automatically delay appeals, either. So of the 13 steps in the "appellate process" three aren't appellate steps, five are federal discretionary appeals, and only two are mandatory state appeals.

Tennessee does not appear to offer those sentenced to death more appellate rights than any other state.

Spice Weasel
12-12-2007, 10:19 PM
Also (and I fully realize that this is completely beside the point), the convicted prisoner doesn’t exactly get to spend his or her time at Disneyland while they are appealing their sentence. I only bring this up because every time the question posed by the OP is asked, it is almost invariably done so out of a sense of dissatisfaction at the delays involved in the process

Let there be no confusion, then. I am 100%, completely and totally with the wholeness of my entire being, morally opposed to the death penalty. That's not really relevant to the question, but I felt it necessary to clarify lest someone assume I'm trying to be snarky with the OP. It was really just a curious product of my morbid mind.

And the whole ''appeals'' thing does make a great deal of sense.