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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Court death cases face rising tide of evidence

Since Hawai'i does not impose the death penalty in capital cases, there might be less intense interest here than in other states over a series of critical cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But local policy-makers should follow these cases and the debate around them closely. Not only will it help inform discussion on the overall handling of capital cases, it should further cement our determination not to reinstate the death penalty here.

Several death penalty cases are before the court. One involves a mentally handicapped defendant and another a man whose lawyer slept through his trial. A third asks whether our constitutional right to trial by jury extends to imposition of the death penalty.

The Supreme Court has supported the death penalty in previous cases, but that could be changing. For instance, a study recently ordered by Illinois Gov. George Ryan concluded that even with sweeping reforms to the handling of death penalty cases, there is no guarantee that an innocent person might not be executed.

Another study of some 5,000 capital cases in both state and federal courts found that the death penalty was overturned in 68 percent of the cases.

Not always on the basis of the innocence, obviously, but still a stunning statistic.

It's time for the Supreme Court to conclude that the United States should join the extensive list of other civilized nations and ban the death penalty.