Justice Breyer tells America: The Death Penalty is broken, and a “humane” method of killing will not fix it.

constitution.republic.1916_theusindependentSUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

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No. 14–7955

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RICHARD E. GLOSSIP, et al., PETITIONERS v. KEVIN J. GROSS, et al.

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

[June 29, 2015]

Justice Breyer, with whom Justice Ginsburg joins, dissenting.

For the reasons stated in Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, I dissent from the Court’s holding. But rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.

The relevant legal standard is the standard set forth in the Eighth Amendment. The Constitution there forbids the “inflict[ion]” of “cruel and unusual punishments.” Amdt. 8. The Court has recognized that a “claim that punishment is excessive is judged not by the standards that prevailed in 1685 when Lord Jeffreys presided over the ‘Bloody Assizes’ or when the Bill of Rights was adopted, but rather by those that currently prevail.” Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, 311 (2002) . Indeed, the Constitution prohibits various gruesome punishments that were common in Blackstone’s day. See 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 369–370 (1769) (listing mutilation and dismembering, among other punishments).

Nearly 40 years ago, this Court upheld the death pen-alty under statutes that, in the Court’s view, contained safeguards sufficient to ensure that the penalty would be applied reliably and not arbitrarily. See Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U. S. 153, 187 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.); Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U. S. 242, 247 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.); Jurek v. Texas, 428 U. S. 262, 268 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.); but cf. Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U. S. 280, 303 (1976) (plurality opinion) (striking down mandatory death penalty); Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U. S. 325, 331 (1976) (plurality opinion) (similar). The circumstances and the evidence of the death penalty’s application have changed radically since then. Given those changes, I believe that it is now time to reopen the question.

In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems. Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed. Today’s administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.

I shall describe each of these considerations, emphasizing changes that have occurred during the past four decades. For it is those changes, taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court, that lead me to believe that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited “cruel and unusual punishmen[t].” U. S. Const., Amdt. 8.

I

“Cruel”—Lack of Reliability

This Court has specified that the finality of death creates a “qualitative difference” between the death penalty and other punishments (including life in prison). Woodson, 428 U. S., at 305 (plurality opinion). That “qualitative difference” creates “a corresponding difference in the need for reliability in the determination that death is the appropriate punishment in a specific case.” Ibid. There is increasing evidence, however, that the death penalty as now applied lacks that requisite reliability. Cf. Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U. S. 163 –211 (2006) (Souter, J., dis-senting) (DNA exonerations constitute “a new body offact” when considering the constitutionality of capital punishment).

For one thing, despite the difficulty of investigating the circumstances surrounding an execution for a crime that took place long ago, researchers have found convincing evidence that, in the past three decades, innocent people have been executed. See, e.g., Liebman, Fatal Injustice; Carlos DeLuna’s Execution Shows That a Faster, Cheaper Death Penalty is a Dangerous Idea, L. A. Times, June 1, 2012, p. A19 (describing results of a 4-year investigation, later published as The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution (2014), that led its authors to conclude that Carlos DeLuna, sentenced to death and executed in 1989, six years after his arrest in Texas for stabbinga single mother to death in a convenience store, was innocent); Grann, Trial By Fire: Did Texas Execute An Innocent Man? The New Yorker, Sept. 7, 2009, p. 42 (describing evidence that Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted, and ultimately executed in 2004, for the apparently motiveless murder of his three children as the result of invalid scientific analysis of the scene of the house fire that killed his children). See also, e.g., Press Release: Gov. Ritter Grants Posthumous Pardon in Case Dating Back to 1930s, Jan. 7, 2011, p. 1 (Colorado Governor granted full and unconditional posthumous pardon to Joe Arridy, a man with an IQ of 46 who was executed in 1936, because, according to the Governor, “an overwhelming body of evidence indicates the 23-year-old Arridy was innocent, including false and coerced confessions, the likelihood that Arridy was not in Pueblo at the time of the killing, and an admission of guilt by someone else”); R. Warden, Wilkie Collins’s The Dead Alive: The Novel, the Case, and Wrongful Convictions 157–158 (2005) (in 1987, Nebraska Governor Bob Kerrey pardoned William Jackson Marion, who had been executed a century earlier for the murder of John Cameron, a man who later turned up alive; the alleged victim, Cameron, had gone to Mexico to avoid a shotgun wedding).

For another, the evidence that the death penalty has been wrongly imposed (whether or not it was carried out), is striking. As of 2002, this Court used the word “disturbing” to describe the number of instances in which individuals had been sentenced to death but later exonerated. Atthat time, there was evidence of approximately 60exonerations in capital cases. Atkins, 536 U. S., at320, n. 25; National Registry of Exonerations, online at http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/about.aspx (all Internet materials as visited June 25, 2015, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file). (I use “exoneration” to refer to relief from all legal consequences of a capital conviction through a decision by a prosecutor, a Governor or a court, after new evidence of the defendant’s innocence was discovered.) Since 2002, the number of exonerations in capital cases has risen to 115. Ibid.; National Registry of Exonerations, Exonerations in the United States, 1989–2012, pp. 6–7 (2012) (Exonerations 2012 Report) (defining exoneration); accord, Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), Innocence: List of Those Freed from Death Row, online at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-and-death-penalty (DPIC Innocence List) (calculating, under a slightly different definition of exoneration, the number of exonerations since 1973 as 154). Last year, in 2014, six death row inmates were exonerated based on actual innocence. All had been imprisoned for more than 30 years (and one for almost 40 years) at the time of their exonerations. National Registry of Exonerations, Exonerations in 2014, p. 2 (2015).

The stories of three of the men exonerated within the last year are illustrative. DNA evidence showed that Henry Lee McCollum did not commit the rape and murder for which he had been sentenced to death. Katz & Eckholm, DNA Evidence Clears Two Men in 1983 Murder, N. Y. Times, Sept. 3, 2014, p. A1. Last Term, this Court ordered that Anthony Ray Hinton, who had been convicted of murder, receive further hearings in state court; he was exonerated earlier this year because the forensic evidence used against him was flawed. Hinton v. Alabama, 571 U. S. ___ (2014) (per curiam); Blinder, Alabama Man on Death Row for Three Decades Is Freed as State’s Case Erodes, N. Y. Times, Apr. 4, 2014, p. A11. And when Glenn Ford, also convicted of murder, was exonerated, the prosecutor admitted that even “[a]t the time this case was tried there was evidence that would have cleared Glenn Ford.” Stroud, Lead Prosecutor Apologizes for Role in Sending Man to Death Row, Shreveport Times, Mar. 27, 2015. All three of these men spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated. I return to these examples infra.

Furthermore, exonerations occur far more frequently where capital convictions, rather than ordinary criminal convictions, are at issue. Researchers have calculated that courts (or State Governors) are 130 times more likely to exonerate a defendant where a death sentence is at issue. They are nine times more likely to exonerate where a capital murder, rather than a noncapital murder, is at issue. Exonerations 2012 Report 15–16, and nn. 24–26.

Why is that so? To some degree, it must be because the law that governs capital cases is more complex. To some degree, it must reflect the fact that courts scrutinize capital cases more closely. But, to some degree, it likely also reflects a greater likelihood of an initial wrongful conviction. How could that be so? In the view of researchers who have conducted these studies, it could be so because the crimes at issue in capital cases are typically horrendous murders, and thus accompanied by intense community pressure on police, prosecutors, and jurors to secure a conviction. This pressure creates a greater likelihood of convicting the wrong person. See Gross, Jacoby, Matheson, Montgomery, & Patil, Exonerations in the United States 1989 Through 2003, 95 J. Crim. L. & C. 523, 531–533 (2005); Gross & O’Brien, Frequency and Predictors of False Conviction: Why We Know So Little, and New Data on Capital Cases, 5 J. Empirical L. Studies 927, 956–957 (2008) (noting that, in comparing those who were exonerated from death row to other capital defendants who were not so exonerated, the initial police investigations tended to be shorter for those exonerated); see also B. Garrett, Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (2011) (discussing other common causes of wrongful convictions generally including false confessions, mistaken eyewitness testimony, untruthful jailhouse informants, and ineffective defense counsel).

In the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, for example, who (as noted earlier) was executed despite likely innocence, the State Bar of Texas recently filed formal misconduct charges against the lead prosecutor for his actions—actions that may have contributed to Willingham’s conviction. Possley, Prosecutor Accused of Misconduct in Death Penalty Case, Washington Post, Mar. 19, 2015, p. A3. And in Glenn Ford’s case, the prosecutor admitted that he was partly responsible for Ford’s wrongful conviction, issuing a public apology to Ford and explaining that, at the time of Ford’s conviction, he was “not as interested in justice as [he] was in winning.” Stroud, supra.

Other factors may also play a role. One is the practice of death-qualification; no one can serve on a capital jury who is not willing to impose the death penalty. See Rozelle, The Principled Executioner: Capital Juries’ Bias and the Benefits of True Bifurcation, 38 Ariz. S. L. J. 769, 772–793, 807 (2006) (summarizing research and concluding that “[f]or over fifty years, empirical investigation has demonstrated that death qualification skews juries toward guilt and death”); Note, Mandatory Voir Dire Questions in Capital Cases: A Potential Solution to the Biases of Death Qualification, 10 Roger Williams Univ. L. Rev. 211, 214–223 (2004) (similar).

Another is the more general problem of flawed forensic testimony. See Garrett, supra, at 7. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for example, recently found that flawed microscopic hair analysis was used in 33 of 35 capital cases under review; 9 of the 33 had already been executed. FBI, National Press Releases, FBI Testimony on Microscopic Hair Analysis Contained Errors in at Least 90 Percent of Cases in Ongoing Review, Apr. 20, 2015. See also Hsu, FBI Admits Errors at Trials: False Matches on Crime-Scene Hair, Washington Post, Apr. 19, 2015, p. A1 (in the District of Columbia, which does not have the death penalty, five of seven defendants in cases with flawed hair analysis testimony were eventually exonerated).

In light of these and other factors, researchers estimate that about 4% of those sentenced to death are actually innocent. See Gross, O’Brien, Hu, & Kennedy, Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants Who Are Sentenced to Death, 111 Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences 7230 (2014) (full-scale study of all death sentences from 1973 through 2004 estimating that 4.1% of those sentenced to death are actually innocent); Risinger, Innocents Convicted: An Empirically Justified Factual Wrongful Conviction Rate, 97 J. Crim. L. & C. 761 (2007) (examination of DNA exonerations in death penalty cases for murder-rapes between 1982 and 1989 suggesting an analogous rate of between 3.3% and 5%).

Finally, if we expand our definition of “exoneration” (which we limited to errors suggesting the defendant was actually innocent) and thereby also categorize as “erroneous” instances in which courts failed to follow legally required procedures, the numbers soar. Between 1973 and 1995, courts identified prejudicial errors in 68% of the capital cases before them. Gelman, Liebman, West, & Kiss, A Broken System: The Persistent Patterns of Reversals of Death Sentences in the United States, 1 J. Empirical L. Studies 209, 217 (2004). State courts on direct and postconviction review overturned 47% of the sentences they reviewed. Id., at 232. Federal courts, reviewing capital cases in habeas corpus proceedings, found error in 40% of those cases. Ibid.

This research and these figures are likely controversial. Full briefing would allow us to scrutinize them with more care. But, at a minimum, they suggest a serious problem of reliability. They suggest that there are too many instances in which courts sentence defendants to death without complying with the necessary procedures; and they suggest that, in a significant number of cases, the death sentence is imposed on a person who did not commit the crime. See Earley, A Pink Cadillac, An IQ of 63, and A Fourteen-Year-Old from South Carolina: Why I Can No Longer Support the Death Penalty, 49 U. Rich. L. Rev. 811, 813 (2015) (“I have come to the conclusion that the death penalty is based on a false utopian premise. That false premise is that we have had, do have, will have 100% accuracy in death penalty convictions and executions”); Earley, I Oversaw 36 Executions. Even Death Penalty Supporters Can Push for Change, Guardian, May 12, 2014 (Earley presided over 36 executions as Virginia Attorney General from 1998–2001); but see ante, at 2–3 (Scalia, J., concurring) (apparently finding no special constitutional problem arising from the fact that the execution of an innocent person is irreversible). Unlike 40 years ago, we now have plausible evidence of unreliability that (perhaps due to DNA evidence) is stronger than the evidence we had before. In sum, there is significantly more research-based evidence today indicating that courts sentence to death individuals who may well be actually innocent or whose convictions (in the law’s view) do not warrant the death penalty’s application.

II

“Cruel”—Arbitrariness

The arbitrary imposition of punishment is the antithesis of the rule of law. For that reason, Justice Potter Stewart (who supplied critical votes for the holdings in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238 (1972) (per curiam), and Gregg) found the death penalty unconstitutional as administered in 1972:

“These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people convicted of [death-eligible crimes], many just as reprehensible as these, the[se] petitioners are among a capriciously selected random handful upon which the sentence of death has in fact been imposed.” Furman, 408 U. S., at 309–310 (concurring opinion).

See also id., at 310 (“[T]he Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed”); id., at 313 (White, J., concurring) (“[T]he death penalty is exacted with great infrequency even for the most atrocious crimes and . . . there is no meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which it is imposed from the many cases in which it is not”).

When the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, this Court acknowledged that the death penalty is (and would be) unconstitutional if “inflicted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.” Gregg, 428 U. S., at 188 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.); see also id., at 189 (“[W]here discretion is afforded a sentencing body on a matter so grave as the determination of whether a human life should be taken or spared, that discretion must be suitably directed and limited so as to minimize the risk of wholly arbitrary and capricious action”); Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U. S. 420, 428 (1980) (plurality opinion) (similar).

The Court has consequently sought to make the application of the death penalty less arbitrary by restricting its use to those whom Justice Souter called “ ‘the worst of the worst.’ ” Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U. S., at 206 (dissenting opinion); see also Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, 568 (2005) (“Capital punishment must be limited to those offenders who commit a narrow category of the most serious crimes and whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U. S. 407, 420 (2008) (citing Roper, supra, at 568).

Despite the Gregg Court’s hope for fair administration of the death penalty, 40 years of further experience make it increasingly clear that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily, i.e., without the “reasonable consistency” legally necessary to reconcile its use with the Constitution’s commands. Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U. S. 104, 112 (1982) .

Thorough studies of death penalty sentences support this conclusion. A recent study, for example, examined all death penalty sentences imposed between 1973 and 2007 in Connecticut, a State that abolished the death penalty in 2012. Donohue, An Empirical Evaluation of the Connecticut Death Penalty System Since 1973: Are There Unlawful Racial, Gender, and Geographic Disparities? 11 J. Empirical Legal Studies 637 (2014). The study reviewed treatment of all homicide defendants. It found 205 instances in which Connecticut law made the defendant eligible for a death sentence. Id., at 641–643. Courts imposed a death sentence in 12 of these 205 cases, of which 9 were sustained on appeal. Id., at 641. The study then measured the “egregiousness” of the murderer’s conduct in those 9 cases, developing a system of metrics designed to do so. Id., at 643–645. It then compared the egregiousness of the conduct of the 9 defendants sentenced to death with the egregiousness of the conduct of defendants in the remaining 196 cases (those in which the defendant, though found guilty of a death-eligible offense, was ultimately not sentenced to death). Application of the studies’ metrics made clear that only 1 of those 9 defendants was indeed the “worst of the worst” (or was, at least, within the 15% considered most “egregious”). The remaining eight were not. Their behavior was no worse than the behavior of at least 33 and as many as 170 other defendants (out of a total pool of 205) who had not been sentenced to death. Id., at 678–679.

Such studies indicate that the factors that most clearly ought to affect application of the death penalty—namely, comparative egregiousness of the crime—often do not. Other studies show that circumstances that ought not to affect application of the death penalty, such as race, gender, or geography, often do.

Numerous studies, for example, have concluded that individuals accused of murdering white victims, as opposed to black or other minority victims, are more likely to receive the death penalty. See GAO, Report to the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary: Death Penalty Sentencing 5 (GAO/GGD–90–57, 1990) (82% of the 28 studies conducted between 1972 and 1990 found that race of victim influences capital murder charge or death sentence, a “finding . . . remarkably consistent across data sets, states, data collection methods, and analytic techniques”); Shatz & Dalton, Challenging the Death Penalty with Statistics: Furman, McCleskey, and a Single County Case Study, 34 Cardozo L. Rev. 1227, 1245–1251 (2013) (same conclusion drawn from 20 plus studies conducted between 1990 and 2013).

Fewer, but still many, studies have found that the gender of the defendant or the gender of the victim makes a not-otherwise-warranted difference. Id., at 1251–1253 (citing many studies).

Geography also plays an important role in determining who is sentenced to death. See id., at 1253–1256. And that is not simply because some States permit the death penalty while others do not. Rather within a death pen-alty State, the imposition of the death penalty heavily de-pends on the county in which a defendant is tried. Smith, The Geography of the Death Penalty and its Ramifications, 92 B. U. L. Rev. 227, 231–232 (2012) (hereinafter Smith); see also Donohue, supra, at 673 (“[T]he single most important influence from 1973–2007 explaining whether a death-eligible defendant [in Connecticut] would be sentenced to death was whether the crime occurred in Waterbury [County]”). Between 2004 and 2009, for example, just 29 counties (fewer than 1% of counties in the country) accounted for approximately half of all death sentences imposed nationwide. Smith 233. And in 2012, just 59 counties (fewer than 2% of counties in the country) accounted for all death sentences imposed nationwide. DPIC, The 2% Death Penalty: How A Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases At Enormous Costs to All 9 (Oct. 2013).

What accounts for this county-by-county disparity? Some studies indicate that the disparity reflects the decisionmaking authority, the legal discretion, and ultimately the power of the local prosecutor. See, e.g., Goelzhauser, Prosecutorial Discretion Under Resource Constraints: Budget Allocations and Local Death-Charging Decisions, 96 Judicature 161, 162–163 (2013); Barnes, Sloss, & Thaman, Place Matters (Most): An Empirical Study of Prosecutorial Decision-Making in Death-Eligible Cases, 51 Ariz. L. Rev. 305 (2009) (analyzing Missouri); Donohue, An Empirical Evaluation of the Connecticut Death Pen-alty System, at 681 (Connecticut); Marceau, Kamin, & Foglia, Death Eligibility in Colorado: Many Are Called, Few Are Chosen, 84 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1069 (2013) (Colo-rado); Shatz & Dalton, supra, at 1260–1261 (Alameda County).

Others suggest that the availability of resources for defense counsel (or the lack thereof) helps explain geographical differences. See, e.g., Smith 258–265 (counties with higher death-sentencing rates tend to have weaker public defense programs); Liebman & Clarke, Minority Practice, Majority’s Burden: The Death Penalty Today, 9 Ohio S. J. Crim. L. 255, 274 (2011) (hereinafter Liebman & Clarke) (similar); see generally Bright, Counsel for the Poor: The Death Sentence Not for the Worst Crime but for the Worst Lawyer, 103 Yale L. J. 1835 (1994).

Still others indicate that the racial composition of and distribution within a county plays an important role. See, e.g., Levinson, Smith, & Young, Devaluing Death: An Empirical Study of Implicit Racial Bias on Jury-Eligible Citizens in Six Death Penalty States, 89 N. Y. U. L. Rev. 513, 533–536 (2014) (summarizing research on this point); see also Shatz & Dalton, supra, at 1275 (describing research finding that death-sentencing rates were lowest in counties with the highest nonwhite population); cf. Cohen & Smith, The Racial Geography of the Federal Death Penalty, 85 Wash. L. Rev. 425 (2010) (arguing that the federal death penalty is sought disproportionately where the federal district, from which the jury will be drawn, has a dramatic racial difference from the county in which the federal crime occurred).

Finally, some studies suggest that political pressures, including pressures on judges who must stand for election, can make a difference. See Woodward v. Alabama, 571 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari) (slip op., at 7) (noting that empirical evidence suggests that, when Alabama judges reverse jury recommendations, these “judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures”); Harris v. Alabama, 513 U. S. 504, 519 (1995) (Stevens, J., dissenting) (similar); Gelman, 1 J. Empirical L. Studies, at 247 (elected state judges are less likely to reverse flawed verdicts in capital cases in small towns than in larger communities).

Thus, whether one looks at research indicating that irrelevant or improper factors—such as race, gender, local geography, and resources—do significantly determine who receives the death penalty, or whether one looks at research indicating that proper factors—such as “egregiousness”—do not determine who receives the death penalty, the legal conclusion must be the same: The research strongly suggests that the death penalty is imposedarbitrarily.

Justice Thomas catalogues the tragic details of various capital cases, ante, at 6–10 (concurring opinion), but this misses my point. Every murder is tragic, but unless we return to the mandatory death penalty struck down in Woodson, 428 U. S., at 304–305, the constitutionality of capital punishment rests on its limited application to the worst of the worst, supra, at 9–10. And this extensive body of evidence suggests that it is not so limited.

Four decades ago, the Court believed it possible to interpret the Eighth Amendment in ways that would significantly limit the arbitrary application of the death sentence. See Gregg, 428 U. S., at 195 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.) (“[T]he concerns expressed in Furman that the penalty of death not be imposed in an arbitrary or capricious manner can be met”). But that no longer seems likely.

The Constitution does not prohibit the use of prosecutorial discretion. Id., at 199, and n. 50 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.); McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U. S. 279 –308, and n. 28, 311–312 (1987). It has not proved possible to increase capital defense funding significantly. Smith, The Supreme Court and the Politics of Death, 94 Va. L. Rev. 283, 355 (2008) (“Capital defenders are notoriously underfunded, particularly in states . . . that lead the nation in executions”); American Bar Assn. (ABA) Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, Guideline 9.1, Commentary (rev. ed. Feb. 2003), in 31 Hofstra L. Rev. 913, 985 (2003) (“[C]ompensation of attorneys for death penalty representation remains notoriously inadequate”). And courts cannot easily inquire into judicial motivation. See, e.g., Harris, supra.

Moreover, racial and gender biases may, unfortunately, reflect deeply rooted community biases (conscious or unconscious), which, despite their legal irrelevance, may affect a jury’s evaluation of mitigating evidence, see Callins v. Collins, 510 U. S. 1141, 1153 (1994) (Blackmun, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari) (“Perhaps it should not be surprising that the biases and prejudices that infect society generally would influence the determination of who is sentenced to death”). Nevertheless, it remains the jury’s task to make the individualized assessment of whether the defendant’s mitigation evidence entitles him to mercy. See, e.g., Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U. S. 302, 319 (1989) ; Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S. 586 –605 (1978) (opinion of Burger, C. J.); Woodson, 428 U. S., at 304–305 (plurality opinion).

Finally, since this Court held that comparative proportionality review is not constitutionally required, Pulley v. Harris, 465 U. S. 37 (1984) , it seems unlikely that appeals can prevent the arbitrariness I have described. See Kaufman-Osborn, Capital Punishment, Proportionality Review, and Claims of Fairness (with Lessons from Washington State), 79 Wash. L. Rev. 775, 791–792 (2004) (after Pulley, many States repealed their statutes requiring comparative proportionality review, and most state high courts “reduced proportionality review to a perfunctory exercise” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

The studies bear out my own view, reached after considering thousands of death penalty cases and last-minute petitions over the course of more than 20 years. I see discrepancies for which I can find no rational explanations. Cf. Godfrey, 446 U. S., at 433 (plurality opinion) (“There is no principled way to distinguish this case, in which the death penalty was imposed, from the many cases in which it was not”). Why does one defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death pen-alty (due to aggravators of a prior felony conviction and an after-the-fact robbery), while another defendant does not, despite having kidnapped, raped, and murdered a young mother while leaving her infant baby to die at the scene of the crime. Compare State v. Badgett, 361 N. C. 234, 644 S. E. 2d 206 (2007), and Pet. for Cert. in Badgett v. North Carolina, O. T. 2006, No. 07–6156, with Charbonneau, Andre Edwards Sentenced to Life in Prison for 2001 Murder, WRAL, Mar. 26, 2004, online at http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/109648. Why does one defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death pen-alty (due to aggravators of a prior felony conviction and acting recklessly with a gun), while another defendant does not, despite having committed a “triple murder” by killing a young man and his pregnant wife? Compare Commonwealth v. Boxley, 596 Pa. 620, 948 A. 2d 742 (2008), and Pet. for Cert., O. T. 2008, No. 08–6172, with Shea, Judge Gives Consecutive Life Sentences for Triple Murder, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 29, 2004, p. B5. For that matter, why does one defendant who participated in a single-victim murder-for-hire scheme (plus an after-the-fact robbery) receive the death penalty, while another defendant does not, despite having stabbed his wife 60 times and killed his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son while they slept? See Donohue, Capital Punishment in Connecticut, 1973–2007: A Comprehensive Evaluation from 4686 Murders to One Execution, pp. 128–134 (2013), online at http://works.bepress.com/john_donohue/87. In each instance, the sentences compared were imposed in the same State at about the same time.

The question raised by these examples (and the many more I could give but do not), as well as by the research to which I have referred, is the same question Justice Stewart, Justice Powell, and others raised over the course of several decades: The imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary. From a defendant’s perspective, to receive that sentence, and certainly to find it implemented, is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. How then can we reconcile the death penalty with the demands of a Constitution that first and foremost insists upon a rule of law?

III

“Cruel”—Excessive Delays

The problems of reliability and unfairness almost inevitably lead to a third independent constitutional problem: excessively long periods of time that individuals typically spend on death row, alive but under sentence of death. That is to say, delay is in part a problem that the Constitution’s own demands create. Given the special need for reliability and fairness in death penalty cases, the Eighth Amendment does, and must, apply to the death penalty “with special force.” Roper, 543 U. S., at 568. Those who face “that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution.” Hall v. Florida, 572 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 22). At the same time, the Constitution insists that “every safeguard” be “observed” when “a defendant’s life is at stake.” Gregg, 428 U. S., at 187 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.); Furman, 408 U. S., at 306 (Stewart, J., concurring) (death “differs from all other forms of criminal punishment, not in degree but in kind”); Woodson, supra, at 305 (plurality opinion) (“Death, in its finality, differs more from life imprisonment than a 100-year prison term differs from one of only a year or two”).

These procedural necessities take time to implement. And, unless we abandon the procedural requirements that assure fairness and reliability, we are forced to confront the problem of increasingly lengthy delays in capital cases. Ultimately, though these legal causes may help to explain, they do not mitigate the harms caused by delay itself.

A

Consider first the statistics. In 2014, 35 individualswere executed. Those executions occurred, on average,nearly 18 years after a court initially pronounced itssentence of death. DPIC, Execution List 2014, onlineat http: / / www.deathpenaltyinfo.org / execution – list-2014 (showing an average delay of 17 years, 7 months). In some death penalty States, the average delay is longer. Inan oral argument last year, for example, the State admitted that the last 10 prisoners executed in Florida had spent an average of nearly 25 years on death row before execution. Tr. of Oral Arg. in Hall v. Florida, O. T. 2013, No. 12–10882, p. 46.

The length of the average delay has increased dramatically over the years. In 1960, the average delay between sentencing and execution was two years. See Aarons, Can Inordinate Delay Between a Death Sentence and Execution Constitute Cruel and Unusual Punishment? 29 Seton Hall L. Rev. 147, 181 (1998). Ten years ago (in 2004) the average delay was about 11 years. See Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), T. Snell, Capital Punishment, 2013—Statistical Tables 14 (Table 10) (rev. Dec. 2014) (hereinafter BJS 2013 Stats). By last year the average had risen to about 18 years. DPIC, Execution List 2014, supra. Nearly half of the 3,000 inmates now on death row have been there for more than 15 years. And, at present execution rates, it would take more than 75 years to carry out those 3,000 death sentences; thus, the average person on death row would spend an additional 37.5 years there before being executed. BJS 2013 Stats, at 14, 18 (Tables 11 and 15).

I cannot find any reasons to believe the trend will soon be reversed.

B

These lengthy delays create two special constitutional difficulties. See Johnson v. Bredesen, 558 U. S. 1067, 1069 (2009) (Stevens, J., statement respecting denial of certiorari). First, a lengthy delay in and of itself is especially cruel because it “subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement.” Ibid.; Gomez v. Fierro, 519 U. S. 918 (1996) (Stevens, J., dissenting) (excessive delays from sentencing to execution can themselves “constitute cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment”); see also Lackey v. Texas, 514 U. S. 1045 (1995) (memorandum of Stevens, J., respecting denial of certiorari); Knight v. Florida, 528 U. S. 990, 993 (1999) (Breyer, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari). Second, lengthy delay undermines the death penalty’s penological rationale. Johnson, supra, at 1069; Thompson v. McNeil, 556 U. S. 1114 ,1115 (2009) (statement of Stevens, J., respecting denial of certiorari).

1

Turning to the first constitutional difficulty, nearly all death penalty States keep death row inmates in isolation for 22 or more hours per day. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), A Death Before Dying: Solitary Confinement on Death Row 5 (July 2013) (ACLU Report). This occurs even though the ABA has suggested that death row inmates be housed in conditions similar to the general population, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on solitary confinement longer than 15 days. See id., at 2, 4; ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: Treatment of Prisoners 6 (3d ed. 2011). And it is well documented that such prolonged solitary confinement produces numerous deleterious harms. See, e.g., Haney, Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and “Supermax” Confinement, 49 Crime & Delinquency 124, 130 (2003) (cataloguing studies finding that solitary confinement can cause prisoners to experience “anxiety, panic, rage, loss of control, paranoia, hallucinations, and self-mutilations,” among many other symptoms); Grassian, Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement, 22 WashU. J. L. & Policy 325, 331 (2006) (“[E]ven a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the [brain’s] electroencephalogram (EEG) pattern toward an abnormal pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium”); accord, In re Medley, 134 U. S. 160 –168 (1890); see also Davis v. Ayala, ante, at 1–4 (Kennedy, J., concurring).

The dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement is aggravated by uncertainty as to whether a death sentence will in fact be carried out. In 1890, this Court recognized that, “when a prisoner sentenced by a court to death is confined in the penitentiary awaiting the execution of the sentence, one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected during that time is the uncertainty during the whole of it.” Medley, supra, at 172. The Court was there describing a delay of a mere four weeks. In the past century and a quarter, little has changed in this respect—except for duration. Today we must describe delays measured, not in weeks, but in decades. Supra, at 18–19.

Moreover, we must consider death warrants that have been issued and revoked, not once, but repeatedly. See, e.g., Pet. for Cert. in Suárez Medina v. Texas, O. T. 2001, No. 02–5752, pp. 35–36 (filed Aug. 13, 2002) (“On fourteen separate occasions since Mr. Suárez Medina’s death sentence was imposed, he has been informed of the time, date, and manner of his death. At least eleven times, hehas been asked to describe the disposal of his bodilyremains”); Lithwick, Cruel but not Unusual, Slate,Apr. 1, 2011, online at http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2011/04/cruel_but_not_unusual.html (John Thompson had seven death warrants signed before he was exonerated); see also, e.g., WFMZ-TV 69 News, Michael John Parrish’s Execution Warrant Signed by Governor Corbett (Aug. 18, 2014), online at http: / / www.wfmz.com /news/Regional-Poconos-Coal / Local /michael-john-parrishs-execution -warrant -signed-by -governor -corbett/27595356 (former Pennsylvania Governor signed 36 death warrants in his first 3.5 years in office even though Pennsylvania has not carried out an execution since 1999).

Several inmates have come within hours or days of execution before later being exonerated. Willie Manning was four hours from his scheduled execution before the Mississippi Supreme Court stayed the execution. See Robertson, With Hours to Go, Execution is Postponed, N. Y. Times, Apr. 8, 2015, p. A17. Two years later, Manning was exonerated after the evidence against him, including flawed testimony from an FBI hair examiner, was severely undermined. Nave, Why Does the State Still Want to Kill Willie Jerome Manning? Jackson Free Press, Apr. 29, 2015. Nor is Manning an outlier case. See, e.g., Martin, Randall Adams, 61, Dies; Freed With Help of Film, N. Y. Times, June 26, 2011, p. 24 (Randall Adams: stayed by this Court three days before execution; later exonerated); N. Davies, White Lies 231, 292, 298, 399 (1991) (Clarence Lee Brandley: execution stayed twice, once 6 days and once 10 days before; later exonerated); M. Edds, An Expendable Man 93 (2003) (Earl Washington, Jr.: stayed 9 days before execution; later exonerated).

Furthermore, given the negative effects of confinement and uncertainty, it is not surprising that many inmates volunteer to be executed, abandoning further appeals. See, e.g., ACLU Report 8; Rountree, Volunteers for Execution: Directions for Further Research into Grief, Culpability, and Legal Structures, 82 UMKC L. Rev. 295 (2014) (11% of those executed have dropped appeals and volunteered); ACLU Report 3 (account of “ ‘guys who dropped their appeals because of the intolerable conditions’ ”). Indeed, one death row inmate, who was later exonerated, still said he would have preferred to die rather than to spend years on death row pursuing his exoneration. Strafer, Volunteering for Execution: Competency, Voluntariness and the Propriety of Third Party Intervention, 74 J. Crim. L. & C. 860, 869 (1983). Nor is it surprising that many inmates consider, or commit, suicide. Id., at 872, n. 44 (35% of those confined on death row in Florida attempted suicide).

Others have written at great length about the constitutional problems that delays create, and, rather than repeat their facts, arguments, and conclusions, I simply refer to some of their writings. See, e.g., Johnson, 558 U. S., at 1069 (statement of Stevens, J.) (delay “subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement”); Furman, 408 U. S., at 288 (Brennan, J., concurring) (“long wait between the imposition of sentence and the actual infliction of death” is “inevitable” and often “exacts a frightful toll”); Solesbee v. Balkcom, 339 U. S. 9, 14 (1950) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting) (“In the history of murder, the onset of insanity while awaiting execution of a death sentence is not a rare phenomenon”); People v. Anderson, 6 Cal. 3d 628, 649, 493 P. 2d 880, 894 (1972) (collecting sources) (“[C]ruelty of capital punishment lies not only in the execution itself and the pain incident thereto, but also in the dehumanizing effects of the lengthy imprisonment prior to execution during which the judicial and administrative procedures essential to due process of law are carried out” (footnote omitted)); District Attorney for Suffolk Dist. v. Watson, 381 Mass. 648, 673, 411 N. E. 2d 1274, 1287 (1980) (Braucher, J., concurring) (death penalty unconstitutional under State Constitution in part because “[it] will be carried out only after agonizing months and years of uncertainty”); see also Riley v. Attorney General of Jamaica, [1983] 1 A. C. 719, 734–735 (P. C. 1982) (Lord Scarman, joined by Lord Brightman, dissenting) (“execution after inordinate delay” would infringe prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments” in §10 of the “Bill of Rights of 1689,” the precursor to our Eighth Amendment); Pratt v. Attorney Gen. of Jamaica, [1994] 2 A. C. 1, 4 (P. C. 1993); id., at 32–33 (collecting cases finding inordinate delays unconstitutional or the equivalent); State v. Makwanyane 1995 (3) SA391 (CC) (S. Afr.); Catholic Commission for Justice & Peace in Zimbabwe v. Attorney-General, [1993] 1 Zim. L. R. 242, 282 (inordinate delays unconstitutional); Soer-ing v. United Kingdom, 11 Eur. Ct. H. R. (ser. A), p. 439 (1989) (extradition of murder suspect to United States would violate the European Convention on Human Rights in light of risk of delay before execution); United States v. Burns, [2001] 1 S. C. R. 283, 353, ¶123 (similar).

2

The second constitutional difficulty resulting from lengthy delays is that those delays undermine the death penalty’s penological rationale, perhaps irreparably so. The rationale for capital punishment, as for any punishment, classically rests upon society’s need to secure deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, or rehabilitation. Capital punishment by definition does not rehabilitate. It does, of course, incapacitate the offender. But the major alternative to capital punishment—namely, life in prison without possibility of parole—also incapacitates. See Ring v. Arizona, 536 U. S. 584, 615 (2002) (Breyer, J., concurring in judgment).

Thus, as the Court has recognized, the death penalty’s penological rationale in fact rests almost exclusively upon a belief in its tendency to deter and upon its ability to satisfy a community’s interest in retribution. See, e.g., Gregg, 428 U. S., at 183 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.). Many studies have examined the death penalty’s deterrent effect; some have found such an effect, whereas others have found a lack of evidence that it deters crime. Compare ante, at 5 (Scalia, J., concurring) (collecting studies finding deterrent effect), with e.g., Sorensen, Wrinkle, Brewer, & Marquart, Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Examining the Effect of Executions on Murder in Texas, 45 Crime & Delinquency 481 (1999) (no evidence of a deterrent effect); Bonner & Fessenden, Absence of Executions: A Special Report, States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates, N. Y. Times, Sept. 22, 2000, p. A1 (from 1980–2000, homicide rate in death-penalty States was 48% to 101% higher than in non-death-penalty States); Radelet & Akers, Deterrence and the Death Penalty: The Views of the Experts, 87 J. Crim. L. & C. 1, 8 (1996) (over 80% of criminologists believe existing research fails to support deterrence justification); Donohue & Wolfers, Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate, 58 Stan. L. Rev. 791, 794 (2005) (evaluating existing statistical evidence and concluding that there is “profound uncertainty” about the existence of a deterrent effect).

Recently, the National Research Council (whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) reviewed 30 years of empirical evidence and concluded that it was insufficient to establish a deterrent effect and thus should “not be used to inform” discussion about the deterrent value of the death penalty. National Research Council, Deterrence and the Death Penalty 2 (D. Nagin & J. Pepper eds. 2012); accord, Baze v. Rees, 553 U. S. 35, 79 (2008) (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment) (“Despite 30 years of empirical re-search in the area, there remains no reliable statistical evi-dence that capital punishment in fact deters potential offenders”).

I recognize that a “lack of evidence” for a proposition does not prove the contrary. See Ring, supra, at 615 (one might believe the studies “inconclusive”). But suppose that we add to these studies the fact that, today, very few of those sentenced to death are actually executed, and that even those executions occur, on average, after nearly two decades on death row. DPIC, Execution List 2014, supra. Then, does it still seem likely that the death penalty has a significant deterrent effect?

Consider, for example, what actually happened to the 183 inmates sentenced to death in 1978. As of 2013 (35 years later), 38 (or 21% of them) had been executed; 132 (or 72%) had had their convictions or sentences overturned or commuted; and 7 (or 4%) had died of other (likely natural) causes. Six (or 3%) remained on death row. BJS 2013 Stats, at 19 (Table 16).

The example illustrates a general trend. Of the 8,466 inmates under a death sentence at some point between 1973 and 2013, 16% were executed, 42% had their convictions or sentences overturned or commuted, and 6% died by other causes; the remainder (35%) are still on death row. Id., at 20 (Table 17); see also Baumgartner & Dietrich, Most Death Penalty Sentences Are Overturned: Here’s Why That Matters, Washington Post Blog, Monkey Cage, Mar. 17, 2015 (similar).

Thus an offender who is sentenced to death is two or three times more likely to find his sentence overturned or commuted than to be executed; and he has a good chance of dying from natural causes before any execution (or exoneration) can take place. In a word, executions are rare. And an individual contemplating a crime but evaluating the potential punishment would know that, in any event, he faces a potential sentence of life without parole.

These facts, when recurring, must have some offsetting effect on a potential perpetrator’s fear of a death penalty. And, even if that effect is no more than slight, it makes it difficult to believe (given the studies of deterrence cited earlier) that such a rare event significantly deters horrendous crimes. See Furman, 408 U. S., at 311–312 (White, J., concurring) (It cannot “be said with confidence that society’s need for specific deterrence justifies death for so few when for so many in like circumstances life imprisonment or shorter prison terms are judged sufficient”).

But what about retribution? Retribution is a valid penological goal. I recognize that surviving relatives of victims of a horrendous crime, or perhaps the community itself, may find vindication in an execution. And a community that favors the death penalty has an understand-able interest in representing their voices. But see A. Sarat, Mercy on Trial: What It Means To Stop an Execution 130 (2005) (Illinois Governor George Ryan explained his decision to commute all death sentences on the ground that it was “cruel and unusual” for “family members to go through this . . . legal limbo for [20] years”).

The relevant question here, however, is whether a “community’s sense of retribution” can often find vindication in “a death that comes,” if at all, “only several decades after the crime was committed.” Valle v. Florida, 564 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (Breyer, J., dissenting from denial of stay) (slip op., at 3). By then the community is a different group of people. The offenders and the victims’ families have grown far older. Feelings of outrage may have subsided. The offender may have found himself a changed human being. And sometimes repentance and even forgiveness can restore meaning to lives once ruined. At the same time, the community and victims’ families will know that, even without a further death, the offender will serve decades in prison under a sentence of life without parole.

I recognize, of course, that this may not always be the case, and that sometimes the community believes that an execution could provide closure. Nevertheless, the delays and low probability of execution must play some role in any calculation that leads a community to insist on death as retribution. As I have already suggested, they may well attenuate the community’s interest in retribution to the point where it cannot by itself amount to a significant justification for the death penalty. Id., at ___ (slip op., at 3). In any event, I believe that whatever interest in retribution might be served by the death penalty as currently administered, that interest can be served almost as well by a sentence of life in prison without parole (a sentence that every State now permits, see ACLU, A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses 11, and n. 10 (2013)).

Finally, the fact of lengthy delays undermines any effort to justify the death penalty in terms of its prevalence when the Founders wrote the Eighth Amendment. When the Founders wrote the Constitution, there were no 20- or 30-year delays. Execution took place soon after sentencing. See P. Mackey, Hanging in the Balance: The Anti-Capital Punishment Movement in New York State, 1776–1861, p. 17 (1982); T. Jefferson, A Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments (1779), reprinted in The Complete Jefferson 90, 95 (S. Padover ed. 1943); 2 Papers of John Marshall 207–209 (C. Cullen & H. Johnson eds. 1977) (describing petition for commutation based in part on 5-month delay); Pratt v. Attorney Gen. of Jamaica, [1994] 2 A. C., at 17 (same in United Kingdom) (collecting cases). And, for reasons I shall describe, infra, at 29–33, we cannot return to the quick executions in the founding era.

3

The upshot is that lengthy delays both aggravate the cruelty of the death penalty and undermine its jurisprudential rationale. And this Court has said that, if the death penalty does not fulfill the goals of deterrence or retribution, “it is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering and hence an unconstitutional punishment.” Atkins, 536 U. S., at 319 (quoting Enmund v. Florida, 458 U. S. 782, 798 (1982) ; internal quotation marks omitted); see also Gregg, 428 U. S., at 183 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.) (“sanction imposed cannot be so totally without penological justification that it results in the gratuitous infliction of suffering”); Furman, supra, at 312 (White, J., concurring) (a “penalty with such negligible returns to the State would be patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment”); Thompson, 556 U. S., at 1115 (statement of Stevens, J., respecting denial of certiorari) (similar).

Indeed, Justice Lewis Powell (who provided a crucial vote in Gregg) came to much the same conclusion, albeit after his retirement from this Court. Justice Powell had come to the Court convinced that the Federal Constitution did not outlaw the death penalty but rather left the matter up to individual States to determine. Furman, supra, at 431–432 (Powell, J., dissenting); see also J. Jeffries, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., p. 409 (2001) (describing Powell, during his time on the Court, as a “fervent partisan” of “the constitutionality of capital punishment”).

Soon after Justice Powell’s retirement, Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed him to chair a committee addressing concerns about delays in capital cases, the Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Habeas Corpus in Capital Cases (Committee). The Committee presented a report to Congress, and Justice Powell testified that “[d]elay robs the penalty of much of its deterrent value.” Habeas Corpus Reform, Hearings before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 100th Cong., 1st and 2d Sess., 35 (1989 and 1990). Justice Powell, according to his official biographer, ultimately concluded that capital punishment:

“ ‘serves no useful purpose.’ The United States was ‘unique among the industrialized nations of the West in maintaining the death penalty,’ and it was enforced so rarely that it could not deter. More important, the haggling and delay and seemingly endless litigation in every capital case brought the law itself into disrepute.” Jeffries, supra, at 452.

In short, the problem of excessive delays led Justice Powell, at least in part, to conclude that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

As I have said, today delays are much worse. When Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed Justice Powell to the Committee, the average delay between sentencing and execution was 7 years and 11 months, compared with 17 years and 7 months today. Compare BJS, L. Greenfeld, Capital Punishment, 1990, p. 11 (Table 12) (Sept. 1991) with supra, at 18–19.

C

One might ask, why can Congress or the States not deal directly with the delay problem? Why can they not take steps to shorten the time between sentence and execution, and thereby mitigate the problems just raised? The answer is that shortening delay is much more difficult than one might think. And that is in part because efforts to do so risk causing procedural harms that also undermine the death penalty’s constitutionality.

For one thing, delays have helped to make application of the death penalty more reliable. Recall the case of Henry Lee McCollum, whom DNA evidence exonerated 30 years after his conviction. Katz & Eckholm, N. Y. Times, at A1. If McCollum had been executed earlier, he would not have lived to see the day when DNA evidence exonerated him and implicated another man; that man is already serving a life sentence for a rape and murder that he committed just a few weeks after the murder McCollum was convicted of. Ibid. In fact, this Court had earlier denied reviewof McCollum’s claim over the public dissent of only one Justice. McCollum v. North Carolina, 512 U. S. 1254 (1994) . And yet a full 20 years after the Court denied review, McCollum was exonerated by DNA evidence. There are a significant number of similar cases, some of which I have discussed earlier. See also DPIC Innocence List, supra (Nathson Fields, 23 years; Paul House, 23 years; Nicholas Yarris, 21 years; Anthony Graves, 16 years; Damon Thibodeaux, 15 years; Ricky Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman, and Kwame Ajamu, all exonerated for the same crime 39 years after their convictions).

In addition to those who are exonerated on the ground that they are innocent, there are other individuals whose sentences or convictions have been overturned for other reasons (as discussed above, state and federal courts found error in 68% of the capital cases they reviewed between 1973 and 1995). See Part I, supra. In many of these cases, a court will have found that the individual did not merit the death penalty in a special sense—namely, he failed to receive all the procedural protections that the law requires for the death penalty’s application. By eliminating some of these protections, one likely could reduce delay. But which protections should we eliminate? Should we eliminate the trial-related protections we have established for capital defendants: that they be able to present to the sentencing judge or jury all mitigating circumstances, Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S. 586 ; that the State provide guidance adequate to reserve the application of the death penalty to particularly serious murders, Gregg, 428 U. S. 153 ; that the State provide adequate counsel and, where warranted, adequate expert assistance, Powell v. Alabama, 287 U. S. 45 (1932) ; Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U. S. 510 (2003) ; Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U. S. 68 (1985) ; or that a jury must find the aggravating factors necessary to impose the death penalty, Ring, 536 U. S. 584 ; see also id., at 614 (Breyer, J., concurring in judgment)? Should we no longer ensure that the State does not execute those who are seriously intellectually disabled, Atkins, 536 U. S. 304 ? Should we eliminate the requirement that the manner of execution be constitutional, Baze, 553 U. S. 35 , or the requirement that the inmate be mentally competent at the time of his execution, Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U. S. 399 (1986) ? Or should we get rid of the criminal protections that all criminal defendants receive—for instance, that defendants claiming violation of constitutional guarantees (say “due process of law”) may seek a writ of habeas corpus in federal courts? See, e.g., O’Neal v. McAninch, 513 U. S. 432 (1995) . My answer to these questions is “surely not.” But see ante, at 5–7 (Scalia, J., concurring).

One might, of course, argue that courts, particularly federal courts providing additional layers of review, apply these and other requirements too strictly, and that causes delay. But, it is difficult for judges, as it would be difficult for anyone, not to apply legal requirements punctiliously when the consequence of failing to do so may well be death, particularly the death of an innocent person. See, e.g., Zant v. Stephens, 462 U. S. 862, 885 (1983) (“[A]lthough not every imperfection in the deliberative process is sufficient, even in a capital case, to set aside a state-court judgment, the severity of the sentence mandates careful scrutiny in the review of any colorable claim of error”); Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U. S. 419, 422 (1995) (“[O]ur duty to search for constitutional error with painstaking care is never more exacting than it is in a capital case” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Thompson, 556 U. S., at 1116 (statement of Stevens, J.) (“Judicial process takes time, but the error rate in capital cases illustrates its necessity”).

Moreover, review by courts at every level helps to ensure reliability; if this Court had not ordered that Anthony Ray Hinton receive further hearings in state court, see Hinton v. Alabama, 571 U. S. ___, he may well have been executed rather than exonerated. In my own view, our legal system’s complexity, our federal system with its separate state and federal courts, our constitutional guarantees, our commitment to fair procedure, and, above all, a special need for reliability and fairness in capital cases, combine to make significant procedural “reform” unlikely in practice to reduce delays to an acceptable level.

And that fact creates a dilemma: A death penalty system that seeks procedural fairness and reliability brings with it delays that severely aggravate the cruelty of capital punishment and significantly undermine the rationale for imposing a sentence of death in the first place. See Knight, 528 U. S., at 998 (Breyer, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari) (one of the primary causes of the delay is the States’ “failure to apply constitutionally sufficient procedures at the time of initial [conviction or] sentencing”). But a death penalty system that minimizes delays would undermine the legal system’s efforts to secure reliability and procedural fairness.

In this world, or at least in this Nation, we can have a death penalty that at least arguably serves legitimate penological purposes or we can have a procedural system that at least arguably seeks reliability and fairness in the death penalty’s application. We cannot have both. And that simple fact, demonstrated convincingly over the past 40 years, strongly supports the claim that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. A death penalty system that is unreliable or procedurally unfair would violate the Eighth Amendment. Woodson, 428 U. S., at 305 (plurality opinion); Hall, 572 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 22); Roper, 543 U. S., at 568. And so would a system that, if reliable and fair in its application of the death penalty, would serve no legitimate penological purpose. Furman, 408 U. S., at 312 (White, J., concurring); Gregg, supra, at 183 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.); Atkins, supra, at 319.

IV

“Unusual”—Decline in Use of the Death Penalty

The Eighth Amendment forbids punishments that are cruel and unusual. Last year, in 2014, only seven States carried out an execution. Perhaps more importantly, in the last two decades, the imposition and implementation of the death penalty have increasingly become unusual. I can illustrate the significant decline in the use of the death penalty in several ways.

An appropriate starting point concerns the trajectory of the number of annual death sentences nationwide, from the 1970’s to present day. In 1977—just after the Supreme Court made clear that, by modifying their legislation, States could reinstate the death penalty137 people were sentenced to death. BJS 2013 Stats, at 19 (Table 16). Many States having revised their death penalty laws to meet Furman’s requirements, the number of death sentences then increased. Between 1986 and 1999, 286 persons on average were sentenced to death each year. BJS 2013 Stats, at 14, 19 (Tables 11 and 16). But, approximately 15 years ago, the numbers began to decline, and they have declined rapidly ever since. See Appendix A, infra (showing sentences from 1977–2014). In 1999, 279 persons were sentenced to death. BJS 2013 Stats, at 19 (Table 16). Last year, just 73 persons were sentenced to death. DPIC, The Death Penalty in 2014: Year End Report 1 (2015).

That trend, a significant decline in the last 15 years, also holds true with respect to the number of annual executions. See Appendix B, infra (showing executions from 1977–2014). In 1999, 98 people were executed. BJS, Data Collection: National Prisoner Statistics Program (BJS Prisoner Statistics) (available in Clerk of Court’s case file). Last year, that number was only 35. DPIC, The Death Penalty in 2014, supra, at 1.

Next, one can consider state-level data. Often when deciding whether a punishment practice is, constitutionally speaking, “unusual,” this Court has looked to the num-ber of States engaging in that practice. Atkins, 536 U. S., at 313–316; Roper, supra, at 564–566. In this respect, the number of active death penalty States has fallen dramatically. In 1972, when the Court decided Furman, the death penalty was lawful in 41 States. Nine States had abolished it. E. Mandery, A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America 145 (2013). As of today, 19 States have abolished the death penalty (along with the District of Columbia), although some did so prospectively only. See DPIC, States With and Without the Death Penalty, online at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/states-and-without-death-penalty. In 11 other States that maintain the death penalty on the books, no execution has taken place for more than eight years: Arkansas (last execution 2005); California (2006); Colorado (1997); Kansas (no executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976); Montana (2006); Nevada (2006); New Hampshire (no executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976); North Carolina (2006); Oregon (1997); Pennsylvania (1999); and Wyoming (1992). DPIC, Executions by State and Year, online at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/5741.

Accordingly, 30 States have either formally abolished the death penalty or have not conducted an execution in more than eight years. Of the 20 States that have conducted at least one execution in the past eight years, 9 have conducted fewer than five in that time, making an execution in those States a fairly rare event. BJS Prisoner Statistics (Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington). That leaves 11 States in which it is fair to say that capital punishment is not “unusual.” And just three of those States (Texas, Missouri, and Florida) accounted for 80% of the executions nationwide (28 of the 35) in 2014. See DPIC, Number of Executions by State and Region Since 1976, online at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/number-executions-state-and-region-1976. Indeed, last year, only seven States conducted an execution. DPIC, Executions by State and Year, supra; DPIC, Death Sentences in the United States From 1977 by State and by Year, online at http : / / www . deathpenaltyinfo .org / death – sentences – united -states-1977-2008. In other words, in 43 States, no one was executed.

In terms of population, if we ask how many Americans live in a State that at least occasionally carries out an execution (at least one within the prior three years), the answer two decades ago was 60% or 70%. Today, that number is 33%. See Appendix C, infra.

At the same time, use of the death penalty has become increasingly concentrated geographically. County-by-county figures are relevant, for decisions to impose the death penalty typically take place at a county level. See supra, at 12–13. County-level sentencing figures show that, between 1973 and 1997, 66 of America’s 3,143 counties accounted for approximately 50% of all death sentences imposed. Liebman & Clarke 264–265; cf. id., at 266. (counties with 10% of the Nation’s population imposed 43% of its death sentences). By the early 2000’s, the death penalty was only actively practiced in a very small number of counties: between 2004 and 2009, only 35 counties imposed 5 or more death sentences, i.e., approximately one per year. See Appendix D, infra (such counties colored in red) (citing Ford, The Death Penalty’s Last Stand, The Atlantic, Apr. 21, 2015). And more recent data show that the practice has diminished yet further: between 2010 and 2015 (as of June 22), only 15 counties imposed five or more death sentences. See Appendix E, infra. In short, the number of active death penalty counties is small and getting smaller. And the overall statistics on county-level executions bear this out. Between 1976 and 2007, there were no executions in 86% of America’s counties. Liebman & Clarke 265–266, and n. 47; cf. ibid. (counties with less than 5% of the Nation’s population carried out over half of its executions from 1976–2007).

In sum, if we look to States, in more than 60% there is effectively no death penalty, in an additional 18% an execution is rare and unusual, and 6%, i.e., three States, account for 80% of all executions. If we look to population, about 66% of the Nation lives in a State that has not carried out an execution in the last three years. And if we look to counties, in 86% there is effectively no death pen-alty. It seems fair to say that it is now unusual to find capital punishment in the United States, at least when we consider the Nation as a whole. See Furman, 408 U. S., at 311 (1972) (White, J., concurring) (executions could be so infrequently carried out that they “would cease to be a credible deterrent or measurably to contribute to any other end of punishment in the criminal justice system . . . when imposition of the penalty reaches a certain degreeof infrequency, it would be very doubtful that any exist-ing general need for retribution would be measurably satisfied”).

Moreover, we have said that it “ ‘is not so much the number of these States that is significant, but the consistency of the direction of change.’ ” Roper, 543 U. S., at 566 (quoting Atkins, supra, at 315) (finding significant that five States had abandoned the death penalty for juveniles, four legislatively and one judicially, since the Court’s decision in Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U. S. 361 (1989) ). Judged in that way, capital punishment has indeed become unusual. Seven States have abolished the death penalty in the last decade, including (quite recently) Nebraska. DPIC, States With and Without the Death Penalty, supra. And several States have come within a single vote of eliminating the death penalty. Seelye, Measure to Repeal Death Penalty Fails by a Single Vote in New Hampshire Senate, N. Y. Times, Apr. 17, 2014, p. A12; Dennison, House Deadlocks on Bill To Abolish Death Penalty in Montana, Billings Gazette, Feb. 23, 2015; see also Offredo, Delaware Senate Passes Death Penalty Repeal Bill, Delaware News Journal, Apr. 3, 2015. Eleven States, as noted earlier, have not executed anyone in eight years. Supra, at 34–35. And several States have formally stopped executing inmates. See Yardley, Oregon’s Governor Says He Will Not Allow Executions, N. Y. Times, Nov. 23, 2011, p. A14 (Oregon); Governor of Colorado, Exec. Order No. D2013–006, May 22, 2013 (Colorado); Lovett, Executions Are Suspended by Governor in Washington, N. Y. Times, Feb. 12, 2014, p. A12 (Washington); Begley, Pennsylvania Stops Using the Death Penalty, Time, Feb. 13, 2015 (Pennsylvania); see also Welsh-Huggins, Associated Press, Ohio Executions Rescheduled, Jan. 30, 2015 (Ohio).

Moreover, the direction of change is consistent. In the past two decades, no State without a death penalty has passed legislation to reinstate the penalty. See Atkins, supra, at 315–316; DPIC, States With and Without the Death Penalty, supra. Indeed, even in many States most associated with the death penalty, remarkable shifts have occurred. In Texas, the State that carries out the most executions, the number of executions fell from 40 in 2000 to 10 in 2014, and the number of death sentences fell from 48 in 1999 to 9 in 2013 (and 0 thus far in 2015). DPIC, Executions by State and Year, supra; BJS, T. Snell, Capital Punishment, 1999, p. 6 (Table 5) (Dec. 2000) (hereinafter BJS 1999 Stats); BJS 2013 Stats, at 19 (Table 16); von Drehle, Bungled Executions, Backlogged Courts, and Three More Reasons the Modern Death Penalty Is a Failed Experiment, Time, June 8, 2015, p. 26. Similarly dramatic declines are present in Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, and North Carolina. BJS 1999 Stats, at 6 (Table 5); BJS 2013 Stats, at 19 (Table 16).

These circumstances perhaps reflect the fact that a majority of Americans, when asked to choose between the death penalty and life in prison without parole, now choose the latter. Wilson, Support for Death Penalty Still High, But Down, Washington Post, GovBeat, June 5, 2014, online at www . washingtonpost . com / blogs / govbeat / wp /2014 / 06 / 05 / support – for – death – penalty-still-high-but-down;see also ALI, Report of the Council to the Membership on the Matter of the Death Penalty 4 (Apr. 15, 2009) (withdrawing Model Penal Code section on capital punishment section from the Code, in part because of doubts that the American Law Institute could “recommend procedures that would” address concerns about the administration of the death penalty); cf. Gregg, 428 U. S., at 193–194 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.) (relying in part on Model Penal Code to conclude that a “carefully drafted statute” can satisfy the arbitrariness concerns expressed in Furman).

I rely primarily upon domestic, not foreign events, in pointing to changes and circumstances that tend to justify the claim that the death penalty, constitutionally speaking, is “unusual.” Those circumstances are sufficient to warrant our reconsideration of the death penalty’s constitutionality. I note, however, that many nations—indeed, 95 of the 193 members of the United Nations—have formally abolished the death penalty and an additional 42 have abolished it in practice. Oakford, UN Vote Against Death Penalty Highlights Global Abolitionist Trend–and Leaves the US Stranded, Vice News, Dec. 19, 2014, online at https :   /  / news . vice . com  /  article  /  un – vote – against – death -penalty – highlights – global-abolitionist-trend-and-leaves-the-us-stranded. In 2013, only 22 countries in the world carried out an execution. International Commission Against Death Penalty, Review 2013, pp. 2–3. No executions were carried out in Europe or Central Asia, and the United States was the only country in the Americas to execute an inmate in 2013. Id., at 3. Only eight countries executed more than 10 individuals (the United States, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen). Id., at 2. And almost 80% of all known executions took place in three countries: Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions 2013, p. 3 (2014). (This figure does not include China, which has a large population, but where precise data cannot be obtained. Id., at 2.)

V

I recognize a strong counterargument that favors constitutionality. We are a court. Why should we not leave the matter up to the people acting democratically through legislatures? The Constitution foresees a country that will make most important decisions democratically. Most nations that have abandoned the death penalty have done so through legislation, not judicial decision. And legislators, unlike judges, are free to take account of matters such as monetary costs, which I do not claim are relevant here. See, e.g., Berman, Nebraska Lawmakers Abolish the Death Penalty, Narrowly Overriding Governor’s Veto, Washington Post Blog, Post Nation, May 27, 2015) (listing cost as one of the reasons why Nebraska legislators re-cently repealed the death penalty in that State); cf. California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, Report and Recommendations on the Administration of the Death Penalty in California 117 (June 30, 2008) (death penalty costs California $137 million per year; a comparable system of life imprisonment without parole would cost $11.5 million per year), online at http://www.ccfaj.org/rr-dp-official.html; Dáte, The High Price of Killing Killers, Palm Beach Post, Jan. 4, 2000, p. 1A (cost of each execution is $23 million above cost of life imprisonment without parole in Florida).

The answer is that the matters I have discussed, such as lack of reliability, the arbitrary application of a serious and irreversible punishment, individual suffering caused by long delays, and lack of penological purpose are quintessentially judicial matters. They concern the infliction—indeed the unfair, cruel, and unusual infliction—of a serious punishment upon an individual. I recognize that in 1972 this Court, in a sense, turned to Congress and the state legislatures in its search for standards that would increase the fairness and reliability of imposing a death penalty. The legislatures responded. But, in the last four decades, considerable evidence has accumulated that those responses have not worked.

Thus we are left with a judicial responsibility. The Eighth Amendment sets forth the relevant law, and we must interpret that law. See Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803); Hall, 572 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 19) (“That exercise of independent judgment is the Court’s judicial duty”). We have made clear that “ ‘the Constitution contemplates that in the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment.’ ” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 19) (quoting Coker v. Georgia, 433 U. S. 584, 597 (1977) (plurality opinion)); see also Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U. S. 815, 833, n. 40 (1988) (plurality opinion).

For the reasons I have set forth in this opinion, I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question.

With respect, I dissent.

APPENDICES

A

Death Sentences Imposed 1977–2014

B

Executions 1977–2014

C

Percentage of U.S. population in States that conducted an execution within prior 3 years

Posted in Courts, Death Penalty, Innocence, Race, SCOTUS | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Infiltrating Black America, One Believer at a Time

rachelThe last time I fought someone with true anger in my bones, a few guys were referring to my buddy with a common Black racial slur.  They felt he shouldn’t be where he was, and this wasn’t the first time.  When he lost his cool and decided to fight these guys, I didn’t have much choice but to get involved.  By the end of the fight, my friend spit on one of the guys and yelled, “And I ain’t Black, I’m Cree Indian, asshole!”

My whole life I have been treated White.  I have gone undetected, “in disguise,” I like to say, as a White Man.  My ethnic disguise offers me privileges, whether I was dealing drugs or in a job interview.  Assumptions of my character and family history are made within seconds of meeting me.  This is human nature, and those assumptions likely change around the world, but I am old enough to know the assumptions about me, my friend the Cree, and many others.  It even allows people to put their guard down, and share with me their disdain for non-White people.

I have been told by White Supremacists that “When the Race War sets off, we kill the race-traitors first.  This way its easier to know who the enemy is after that.”  It’s a threat, a reminder that to them I am a race-traitor.  Once we learn the content of someone’s character, based on their actions and belief system, we all tend to adjust our assumptions about them.  If someone lies about their past actions, experiences, or belief system, we are asking for others to reach manufactured (and false) conclusions about us.

Rachel Dolezal has likely been the only person in a room born to two White parents, who grew up as a little White girl, and who was treated accordingly.  I can relate to that.  Whether in a prison cell or a gathering with other incarcerated guys, or as an activist after release, I was often one of the few White people- and occasionally stood alone.  When issues come up about “affected people” or “using our own voice,” my Whiteness presents a topic that needs to be addressed because you can’t help my lightbulb-like luminescence.

Rachel Dolezal chose to avoid the murky waters of inclusion by covertly switching identities.  Disposing of her birth parents and concocting a Black father, adopting Black children, is something out of a bad Hollywood casting or a COINTELPRO government conspiracy to destroy Black professional advocacy from the inside.  To be the leader of an NAACP chapter, teach African American studies, and say the word “We” is the worst form of cultural appropriation.  At least Iggy Azalea, Eminem, and the Beastie Boys never fronted about who they are.

When someone lies about their war record, we dismiss them.  Hard.  Politicians use these records as capital, to show their sacrifice and patriotism, and it is the least we can do for someone who suffered through that experience.  We honor it, and occasionally compensate it.  It is literally illegal to exploit it.  Ask a veteran what they think of someone who never put boots on the ground, who maybe sat out the war in the domestic National Guard with some college buddies.  Careers have been trashed once these lies are exposed.

Piper Kerman never lied about her racial identity when writing “Orange is the New Black.”  Her story, popularly adapted to a show on Netflix, spawned (overall) healthy discussion about race/prisons and who is “entitled” to speak on the myriad issues involved.  Was her one year inside long enough?  What does she know about the poverty that fuels prisons? Racial Profiling?  She faced such questions while many people provided their opinions.  Imagine if Rachel Dolezal had written “Orange” while posing as a Black woman?  Perhaps her book never gets a New York Times Review, as it is no longer a “fish out of water” tale.  Perhaps it does, and she lands her own show on BET… and then we find out she “presented as” a White girl throughout her youth.  AKA, she was born White.  White, but not like me.

Those of us who did “real” time scoff at those who spent a few days, or a few months, in prison.  But we only scoff if they’re going around using that “street cred” to advance in some realm like hip hop, academia, or social justice.  If someone converted to a religion, or a sexual preference, solely to elevate their professional status, few of us would respect them in the least.  Particularly if it were a status they didn’t have to “pay dues” for.  A few days for a protest, a few months for a non-violent first-time felony that gets expunged does not qualify someone to imply they served hard time.

For me personally, I’m not allowed in public housing.  I can’t vote.  I can’t own a gun.  I can’t get a law license.  I can’t be an AmeriCorps volunteer.  I can’t travel freely.  I can’t get many things otherwise open to equal citizenship and true meritocracy.  This is due to my past actions legitimately earned by me under American laws.  When I talk about how the criminal justice system impacts “us,” it is from the experience of someone who has spent more than half their life under government control.

Presenting as a straight, White male has also led to other results.  I have heard that “we want a diverse workplace” where those three attributes are seen (due to American history) as the over-represented workplace.  Diversity means opening up the opportunities to other racial, gender, and such identities.  I get that.  I fight for that.  I’ve been told to my face (and in other ways) how my Straight White Male status is not scoring me any points in the given circumstance.  If I pulled a Rachel-D move, I could just get some dreads and a spray tan going, and perhaps people would believe that my experience of foster homes, underground economy, violence, and prison was a “diverse” point of view- particularly for someone who then went on to get a law degree.  Perhaps this would be inspiring to young Black Men being targeted by the criminal justice system.  Perhaps I would be asked to serve as local chapter president of the NAACP.

Many organizations and political entities that work on criminal justice reform have nobody who has ever been in prison on their staff.  Granted, me and a few guys can study the unequal pay of women and fight for their economic equality, but it would look a bit ridiculous if we didn’t hire any women.  We need to be upfront about who we are and how we go about our work.

When the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund chose me as one of their Warren Scholars, I was one of the few White people to earn such a prestigious award.  Several writers, some of them who also don’t realize it is a separate organization from the NAACP (not that it is relevant here), felt that the National Association for the Advancement of COLORED PEOPLE has no business concerning themselves with the advancement of a White person.  They/I had to deal with that critique in a way Rachel Dolezal avoided.  She and I both have a history of actions and beliefs that are in concurrence with the advancement of non-White people, yet my small semi-anonymous scholarship among many is a far cry from taking a leadership position based on false pretenses.

Our hearts are very important, but we can’t manufacture memories.  If a journalist commits a crime to go in prison and write about it, she will not have the true gut knowledge of someone who committed such a crime out of desperation, confusion, poverty, or intoxication.  They may talk to a host of people who have, and write about it, but this would be grotesque for them to pass other people’s sufferings off as their own.  Such things have happened.  But they shouldn’t.  If Rachel Dolezal wanted to have a national discussion about the fallacy of racial identity, she should have been writing on that as an academic and talked openly about it.

Lie to me as a kid struggling to get away with something, as an addict fighting themselves… I can work with that.  Lie to me as an educated grown-ass person and I’ve got no time for you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

Writer seeking agent / publisher wanting manuscript on crime, punishment, and love.

1781141_10100241208129299_2878886070736480411_oSome of you have read my posts on the criminal justice system for years, while others may be just discovering my work.  Hopefully you have found my commentary insightful, perhaps useful, and whether you agree with my conclusions or not: you find my voice an important part of a broader discussion.  This is the feedback that has compelled me to continue my writing, unpaid, from whatever time I can carve out of life.  And now I’m calling on you readers to lend assistance if you can.

I recently completed a draft of a book that connects the dots of my personal journey with the issues of prisons, economics, race, and power.  The book is directed towards my daughter, so she can know about these important topics- and also who her dad is without Google trying to fill a gap.  She is small and there are no guarantees that I will alive when she is old enough to fully comprehend the gravity of this topic.

Like most people born into foster homes who ends up in a cage for twelve years, my  resources are limited although my network feels vast.  If you know someone who would be interested in personally hearing me pitch this book, please contact me or forward my information.

When Ursula K. LeGuin recently won her National Book Award, she said:

“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s name is freedom.”

I wrote my first book, NewJack’s Guide to the Big House, ten years ago while talking to the younger guys in prison.  This time I have reentry to discuss, along with voting rights, employment discrimination, housing struggles, and parenting.  Those who have read my work know my style is deep, direct, and brutally honest.  With a flair for creativity.  I look forward to continuing this role.

It is important that any insular industry find ways to connect with people outside the system.  It is important for the arts to embrace voices from the shadows and not merely serve to reinforce an elitism that has run out of new perspectives.

Your humble writer,

Bruce Scottus Reilly

Posted in Commentary, prison economics, Race | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

What if we all had a Ferguson prosecutor?

08808ef0-719b-11e4-b1e4-1352c745cfc9_court_house_Darren_WilsonI wonder how history will write the tale of Ferguson, Missouri, and the story of Mike Brown. Will it be a footnote of injustice, such as the murder of Emmett Till? A catalyst for rage, such as non-guilty verdicts for the officers who brutalized Rodney King? I think history serves as a poor template in the 21st century due to our advanced telecommunications. It is harder and harder for injustice to be carried out in the shadows, yet with such widespread awareness: what might it lead to?

Too much chatter creates a danger that learners cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. A study showed, for instance, that viewers of Fox News Corporation were less informed on news issues than people who don’t even watch the news. This is because of the active disinformation. Its important to read George Orwell’s “1984” with America in mind, and consider Aldous Huxley’s statement: “The worst thing that happened to literature is the price of newsprint going down.” Thus, with the Internet, any old person (including me) can put forth their blah blah blah… but that doesn’t mean it will advance the community to a better place.

Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown, a teenager. It is not disputed. Mike Brown was unarmed. It is not disputed. The list of all the damning facts against Darren Wilson are long, all of which would go to a normal grand jury. His indictment on murder or manslaughter would be easy for any law student to procure. The only question the jurors have to answer at this preliminary stage is if there might be a crime, if there is “probable cause” to proceed with a trial.

When I was indicted, they used all sorts of lies and rumor to pad the circumstances about how and why I killed Charles Russell. My lawyer was not allowed to dispute them, and I was not allowed to tell my side of the story. This is how it works. But not in Ferguson, not when the killer is a cop, and not when the prosecutor is Robert P. McCulloch.

Every indicted person in St. Louis county should file a motion to dismiss their charges, citing “Equal Protection,” because they want the same grand jury treatment that Darren Wilson received from McCulloch. They want the jurors to hear all the exculpatory evidence and a chance to tell their side of the story free from any cross-examination about the story’s inconsistencies. They want the jurors to know about self-defense because it’s not like Darren Wilson is the only person who ever shot someone claiming they were afraid, or where someone was moving towards them.

If I had McCulloch, I would have never gone to prison and my life would have been free to be a lawyer, a writer, or a .com billionaire over the past twenty years, rather than the struggling and ostracized ex-con after twelve years in hell. But only if I worked for the police, of course.

The criminal justice system has exposed a major flaw with its inability to police themselves. If a doctor, nurse, or teacher does something terrible with a patient or student, we don’t ask their colleagues to prosecute the crimes. The prosecutors and police are both members of the Executive Branch, of law enforcement, with the police serving as the investigators for the prosecutors. Every prosecutor should recuse themselves whenever the defendant is one of their investigators, whether they personally know them or not. Ethical rules and recusals are in place not just because of actual corruption, but also for the appearance of impropriety. It looks bad, so don’t do it. A prosecution to the full extent of the law would certainly strain the professional relationship between prosecutors and police. So don’t do it.

Missouri has plenty of civil rights attorneys who could serve as special prosecutors on the Wilson case. In fact, if the court ordered them to fulfill the role they are bound to do it, as “officers of the court.” In some districts, it is not unheard of for prosecutors to be defense lawyers because the area lacks a full public defender system. The reality is, prosecutors literally don’t know how to prosecute someone in law enforcement.

McCulloch has certainly strived to assemble juries who are pro-state, flag wavers, where police are the holiest of holies. Often a case will come down to the word of a police officer, so it is important for prosecutors to have jurors who are inclined to believe, not doubt. Consider that atheists and religious adherents truly don’t understand the other’s mind. From an atheist or agnostic perspective, the story of Jesus looks like some crazy death cult with an ancient holy book full of contradictions and varied interpretations. To say that to a Christian is blasphemy. This is the same disconnect some people have between the righteousness of police officers, especially when the dispute includes a young Black male like Mike Brown. In such a scenario: the hero worship of an officer elevates Wilson’s story, while the structural racism Americans are born into depreciates Mike Brown’s humanity and the legitimacy of his actions. The gap widens.

I am hopeful that cities push for ordinances requiring Special Prosecutors be appointed. A civil rights attorney is accustomed to finding jurors who question the righteousness of government officials. These lawyers know how to cross-examine a cop and, just as importantly, know how to speak as favorably about the life of Mike Brown as the prosecutor can speak about Darren Wilson. A civil rights attorney would never frame the victim for their own demise. But in Ferguson, like in Trayvon Martin’s corner of Florida, the unarmed victim was deemed the culprit. And the guy with the gun was portrayed as the victim.

Last night people protested around the country and many police forces have been in full preparations. Funny how they don’t prepare for the inevitable violence when a sports team wins or loses and drunken White people start smashing and burning things. Voices are being heard. Opinions are being leveled. And for some people, that opinionated voice will be heard through their actions. It took decades of consistent opinions, and facts, for the sanctimonious pillar of the Catholic Church to crumble from its own shaken foundation.  It took that long for the public to collectively condemn, and the Church to acknowledge, the systematic problem of child molestation. Police misconduct represents a similar blind spot in our culture.

Foreign nations are condemning our human rights record. Some of us are awaiting the federal government’s action, as they can still indict Wilson on federal charges just as they do to some drug case defendants who avoid state prosecution. Did Eric Holder submit his resignation because of a dispute over this case? He is still the Attorney General, and he appeared to be ready to prosecute. It is amazing how some people can’t separate the skin tone of Obama, Holder, Wilson, and Brown from two facts: Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown. Mike Brown was unarmed.

Darren Wilson said he has no regrets. He would shoot Brown again. This must make him a hero to violent White Power racists, the type who are outspoken with tattoos and literature to back up their positions and preparations for “the Race War.” I was locked up with such racists, and I came to respect their honesty even if we disagreed. They told me that the “race traitors” will be first to die in the Race War, so they can better know the enemy on sight- such as the reason African slaves were more easily identifiable than Irish indentured servants, or the challenge of picking out European Jews during the Holocaust. So I would reply to the open threat by acknowledging the marching orders they just gave me: I would have to kill them first. I respect them more than the closeted type.

We often hear about how police officers’ primary duty is to go home to their families. Actually, it’s not. Their duty is for everyone to go home to their families, to keep the peace. Club bouncers are more effective than typical police officers. They face drunk belligerent and dangerous people all the time, and are constantly frisking people for weapons. Bouncers don’t enjoy the structural intimidation of the State, and are constantly challenged to fights. Yet I would bet far more cops kill people than club security kills. I want a stat to back that up, but I need to get to work and it feels like exhausting research to find out. We need cops trained by bouncers, and by social workers, mental health workers, and violence interrupters.  If Wilson is just a guy with a gun, he will act like a guy with one tool to solve all his problems.

If police want the respect from all people, they can’t circle the wagons every time. They can’t stand in solidarity with someone, armed and wearing the badge, while that killer has not yet had a trial. Darren Wilson is just some regular dude. He lives on a street. He’s married. He’s 6’4” and 210 pounds. He went to kindergarten. He has been divorced, and is just as capable of being an idiot. So many people I know convicted of murder got caught up in a situation and made a wrong turn and, just like that, it was too late to change things. Wilson is bold enough to say he wouldn’t even change the outcome. He may as well just urinated on the front lawn of Mike Brown’s mom.

McCulloch is either a terrible lawyer or corrupt. He has a duty to get this charge to a trial, to treat it like the others (unless he will claim that all the other indictments were handled in a “one-sided” manner, although that is the point). Someone should file a Bar complaint against him for acting unethically and bringing public embarrassment to the profession. He has also never indicted an officer and his dad was a cop shot in the line of duty. So he did a good job if he was representing himself rather than the Brown family and the people of Ferguson. Instead he represented Wilson, a guy who used to work for a corrupt police force in Jennings, Missouri.  He represented part of his legal team.

McCulloch represented his people, clearly and effectively. Other defendants won’t get that treatment. Not unless they are law enforcement. The message heard by the people of America is ‘Yes we shot the kid, and we will do it again.’ I’m not sure that is the best strategic decision to build a strong community, but I’m just part of the chatter. History will decide.

Posted in Actions, Commentary, Police, Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

08808ef0-719b-11e4-b1e4-1352c745cfc9_court_house_Darren_WilsonI wonder how history will write the tale of Ferguson, Missouri, and the story of Mike Brown. Will it be a footnote of injustice, such as the murder of Emmett Till? A catalyst for rage, such as non-guilty verdicts for the officers who brutalized Rodney King? I think history serves as a poor template in the 21st century due to our advanced telecommunications. It is harder and harder for injustice to be carried out in the shadows, yet with such widespread awareness: what might it lead to?

Too much chatter creates a danger that learners cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. A study showed, for instance, that viewers of Fox News Corporation were less informed on news issues than people who don’t even watch the news. This is because of the active disinformation. Its important to read Aldous Huxley’s “1984” with America in mind, and consider his statement: “The worst thing that happened to literature is the price of newsprint going down.” Thus, with the Internet, any old person (including me) can put forth their blah blah blah… but that doesn’t mean it will advance the community to a better place.

Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown, a teenager. It is not disputed. Mike Brown was unarmed. It is not disputed. The list of all the damning facts against Darren Wilson are long, all of which would go to a normal grand jury. His indictment on murder or manslaughter would be easy for any law student to procure. The only question the jurors have to answer at this preliminary stage is if their might be a crime, if there is “probable cause” to proceed with a trial.

When I was indicted, they used all sorts of lies and rumor to pad the circumstances about how and why I killed Charles Russell. My lawyer was not allowed to dispute them, and I was not allowed to tell my side of the story. This is how it works. But not in Ferguson, not when the killer is a cop, and not when the prosecutor is Robert P. McCulloch.

Every indicted person in St. Louis county should file a motion to dismiss their charges, citing “Equal Protection,” because they want the same grand jury treatment that Darren Wilson received from McCulloch. They want the jurors to hear all the exculpatory evidence and a chance to tell their side of the story free from any cross-examination about the story’s inconsistencies. They want the jurors to know about self-defense because it’s not like Darren Wilson is the only person who ever shot someone claiming they were afraid, or where someone was moving towards them.

If I had McCulloch, I would have never gone to prison and my life would have been free to be a lawyer, a writer, or a .com billionaire over the past twenty years, rather than the struggling and ostracized ex-con after twelve years in hell. But only if I worked for the police, of course.

The criminal justice system has exposed a major flaw with its inability to police themselves. If a doctor, nurse, or teacher does something terrible with a patient or student, we don’t ask their colleagues to prosecute the crimes. The prosecutors and police are both members of the Executive Branch, of law enforcement, with the police serving as the investigators for the prosecutors. Every prosecutor should recuse themselves whenever the defendant is one of their investigators, whether they personally know them or not. Ethical rules and recusals are in place not just because of actual corruption, but also for the appearance of impropriety. It looks bad, so don’t do it. A prosecution to the full extent of the law would certainly strain the professional relationship between prosecutors and police. So don’t do it.

Missouri has plenty of civil rights attorneys who could serve as special prosecutors on the Wilson case. In fact, if the court ordered them to fulfill the role they are bound to do it, as “officers of the court.” In some districts, it is not unheard of for prosecutors to be defense lawyers because the area lacks a full public defender system. The reality is, prosecutors literally don’t know how to prosecute someone in law enforcement.

McCulloch has certainly strived to assemble juries who are pro-state, flag wavers, where police are the holiest of holies. Often a case will come down to the word of a police officer, so it is important for prosecutors to have jurors who are inclined to believe, not doubt. Consider that atheists and religious adherents truly don’t understand the other’s mind. From an atheist or agnostic perspective, the story of Jesus looks like some crazy death cult with an ancient holy book full of contradictions and varied interpretations. To say that to a Christian is blasphemy. This is the same disconnect some people have between the righteousness of police officers, especially when the dispute includes a young Black male like Mike Brown. In such a scenario: the hero worship of an officer elevates Wilson’s story, while the structural racism Americans are born into depreciates Mike Brown’s humanity and the legitimacy of his actions. The gap widens.

I am hopeful that cities push for ordinances requiring Special Prosecutors be appointed. A civil rights attorney is accustomed to finding jurors who question the righteousness of government officials. These lawyers know how to cross-examine a cop and, just as importantly, know how to speak as favorably about the life of Mike Brown as the prosecutor can speak about Darren Wilson. A civil rights attorney would never frame the victim for their own demise. But in Ferguson, like in Trayvon Martin’s corner of Florida, the unarmed victim was deemed the culprit. And the guy with the gun was portrayed as the victim.

Last night people protested around the country and many police forces have been in full preparations. Funny how they don’t prepare for the inevitable violence when a sports team wins or loses and drunken White people start smashing and burning things. Voices are being heard. Opinions are being leveled. And for some people, that opinionated voice will be heard through their actions. It took decades of consistent opinions, and facts, for the sanctimonious pillar of the Catholic Church to crumble from its own shaken foundation.  It took that long for the public to collectively condemn, and the Church to acknowledge, the systematic problem of child molestation. Police misconduct represents a similar blind spot in our culture.

Foreign nations are condemning our human rights record. Some of us are awaiting the federal government’s action, as they can still indict Wilson on federal charges just as they do to some drug case defendant’s who avoid state prosecution. Did Eric Holder submit his resignation because of a dispute over this case? He is still the Attorney General, and he appeared to be ready to prosecute. It is amazing how some people can’t separate the skin tone of Obama, Holder, Wilson, and Brown from two facts: Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown. Mike Brown was unarmed.

Darren Wilson said he has no regrets. He would shoot Brown again. This must make him a hero to violent White Power racists, the type who are outspoken with tattoos and literature to back up their positions and preparations for “the Race War.” I was locked up with such racists, and I came to respect their honesty even if we disagreed. They told me that the “race traitors” will be first to die in the Race War, so they can better know the enemy on sight- such as the reason African slaves were more easily identifiable than Irish indentured servants, or the challenge of picking out European Jews during the Holocaust. So I would reply to the open threat by acknowledging the marching orders they just gave me: I would have to kill them first. I respect them more than the closeted type.

We often hear about how police officers’ primary duty is to go home to their families. Actually, it’s not. Their duty is for everyone to go home to their families, to keep the peace. Club bouncers are more effective than typical police officers. They face drunk belligerent and dangerous people all the time, and are constantly frisking people for weapons. Bouncers don’t enjoy the structural intimidation of the State, and are constantly challenged to fights. Yet I would bet far more cops kill people than club security kills. I want a stat to back that up, but I need to get to work and it feels like exhausting research to find out. We need cops trained by bouncers, and by social workers, mental health workers, and violence interrupters.  If Wilson is just a guy with a gun, he will act like a guy with one tool to solve all his problems.

If police want the respect from all people, they can’t circle the wagons every time. They can’t stand in solidarity with someone, armed and wearing the badge, while that killer has not yet had a trial. Darren Wilson is just some regular dude. He lives on a street. He’s married. He’s 6’4” and 210 pounds. He went to kindergarten. He has been divorced, and is just as capable of being an idiot. So many people I know convicted of murder got caught up in a situation and made a wrong turn and, just like that, it was too late to change things. Wilson is bold enough to say he wouldn’t even change the outcome. He may as well just urinated on the front lawn of Mike Brown’s mom.

McCulloch is either a terrible lawyer or corrupt. He has a duty to get this charge to a trial, to treat it like the others (unless he will claim that all the other indictments were handled in a “one-sided” manner, although that is the point). Someone should file a Bar complaint against him for acting unethically and bringing public embarrassment to the profession. He has also never indicted an officer and his dad was a cop shot in the line of duty. So he did a good job if he was representing himself rather than the Brown family and the people of Ferguson. Instead he represented Wilson, a guy who used to work for a corrupt police force in Jennings, Missouri.  He represented part of his legal team.

McCulloch represented his people, clearly and effectively. Other defendants won’t get that treatment. Not unless they are law enforcement. The message heard by the people of America is ‘Yes we shot the kid, and we will do it again.’ I’m not sure that is the best strategic decision to build a strong community, but I’m just part of the chatter. History will decide.

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Lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s “Mumia Gag Order” overlooks copyright protection

901451The Pennsylvania legislature unanimously passed a bill, the “Revictimization Relief Act,” in the wake of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commencement speech delivered at Goddard College. The rationale for the bill is to suppress conduct that would cause “mental anguish” for victims of crime. Mumia Abu-Jamal, a prolific writer and speaker, is convicted of killing a police officer in 1982 and has maintained his innocence throughout his continuing legal saga. Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill into law prior to being voted out of office.

This week, the Abolitionist Law Center filed a typical First Amendment lawsuit on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s behalf, raising the obvious (and likely successful) claims that the government is vaguely targeting certain speakers in violation of their 14th Amendment right to equal protection.  Such an argument is incomplete, however, and Mumia should consider amending the complaint to ensure these gag tactics become abandoned.  They are not only impeding Free Speech; Pennsylvania is illegally encroaching upon the federal power to regulate copyrights.  A deeper analysis of copyright and prisoners can be read in Making a Record With a Criminal Record.

This bill is not the first time states have attempted to suppress such speech. The “Son of Sam” lineage of state laws grew out of New York City’s infamous subway shooter, David Berkowitz. When the New York legislature learned Berkowitz was negotiating the rights to his story,[1] they passed a broad law preventing people from capitalizing on writings about their crime.[2] The “Son of Sam” law was later replicated, including federally.[3] Pennsylvania passed their own law in 1995 allowing the state, and victims, to claim the profits of a convicted person (Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 42 § 8312).

Commenters and lawyers tend to focus exclusively on the obvious Free Speech issues, yet fail to include intellectual property rights.   These writings are more than speech, they are copyrighted material, and the federal Copyright Act and Dormant Commerce clause should be invoked to block states from impeding this area of law. Furthermore, the overt targeting of Abu-Jamal suggests the law is a thinly veiled, and unconstitutional, Bill of Attainder- a law targeting one individual.

goodfellasposterOver a decade after “Son of Sam,” Simon and Schuster contracted Nic Pileggi to co-author “Wise Guy,” a book with mobster Henry Hill (ultimately turned into the movie “Goodfellas”). New York intervened and the case proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court based on a Free Speech argument. The Court ultimately struck down the original “Son of Sam” law with language suggesting a more tailored law would survive such challenges. Since the Schuster decision, other state laws have been successfully challenged.[4] Some states amended their law, such as New York, while California’s was struck down and abandoned.

Pennsylvania’s new law applies to those who are victims of a personal injury crime, which could be as expansive as every simple assault or domestic violence case. It allows for injunctive or “any other appropriate” relief, meaning the judge could award monies or attempt to order a third party to suppress speech. The civil violation would be to engage in conduct that continues to perpetuate the effects of the crime, and this includes “temporary mental anguish.” Such a law is both vague and overly broad, placing judges in a precarious position of deciding whether someone’s subjective anguish is sufficient. What if the conduct is holding a job, finding a residence, or appearing before a parole hearing? Would a judge be expected to eliminate those things?

51c4FHWCJ-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Laws impeding on copyright and free speech have no effect if they are not also multi-jurisdictional. But this creates further federal complications. For example, in 1991 Sammy “The Bull” Gravano pled guilty to federal racketeering charges in New York. “Underboss” was published in 1997, and eventually Gravano was arrested for drug distribution in Arizona. Arizona brought suit against entertainment titans Harper Collins, Twentieth Century Fox, and International Creative Management, and alleged the creation of an elaborate scheme to avoid “Son of Sam.”[5] The Arizona court upheld a seizure of “Underboss” royalties even where the crime and victims were in New York.[6]

To curtail conduct under the Revictimization Relief Act, the state would need to control a person’s actions. In Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case, this may require holding him incommunicado with the outside world in a similar vein as those accused of high-level Al Qaeda operations. This could then trigger other Eighth Amendment claims of cruel and unusual punishment.

2014-09-30-FNC-KF-Kelly_FaulknerThe Copyright Act preempts state laws controlling Abu-Jamal’s commencement address

It is likely that Pennsylvania strategically chose to ban “conduct” rather than “speech” or “writings.” The First Amendment stops the government from controlling the content of speech, and ensures that public safety regulations on the time, place, or manner of speech be as slight as possible. But in terms of who owns written or recorded speech, who controls it, who benefits- this is the field of copyright. Mumia Abu-Jamal’s controversial commencement speech was actually a recording. Once digitally fixed and memorialized, it became copyrighted material.

One need not be a citizen to hold copyright, and international treaties serve to protect even “stateless” persons. Although significant rights are lost, or temporarily taken, by being in prison, Abu-Jamal’s writings and recordings are legally his own.

Federal copyright law should override and condemn the “Mumia Law” and the “Son of Sam” laws as state interference under Field Preemption, meaning the feds own the field.   The Constitution mandates federal law as the supreme law of the land, superseding any state law to the contrary.[7]   Where Congress creates comprehensive regulations, states are precluded from legislation in this field unless explicitly allowed. Immigration laws are a prime example.[8] The Supreme Court has, however, expressed latitude where states have historically held a degree of power.[9] Recent state laws relaxing drug enforcement illustrate the tension of state’s rights within federal prohibition under the power of the Commerce Clause.[10]

The Copyright Act covers, among other things, songs, movies, and books, i.e. the same material listed within “Son of Sam” statutes, and the same “conduct” discussed in relation with Abu-Jamal.[11] These state laws refer to all financial compensation, including all “royalties.” The legal basis for a royalty is drawn from copyright and the rights of reproduction and distribution.[12] States passing laws that duplicate or encroach upon copyrightable material are explicitly annulled under Section 301. Thus, once created, the state would have no power to control the work.

Lacking the power to create an equivalent right, states have blatantly intruded upon the rights of authors to preemptively seize royalties in an attempt to control the work. The Act bars all involuntarily transfers of copyright.[13] Congress made one exception to this provision, regarding seizure of assets under the Bankruptcy Act.[14] This specific cross-referenced exception excludes other vague exceptions.

Courts protect the financial incentive to create and disseminate ideas by stopping copyright infringement. This requires standing, counsel, and an incentive to file suit. Under “Son of Sam,” however, these things remain unclear (and even hazier under “Mumia.”) Any judgment for damages would likely be owned by the state, and copyright attorneys would require an explicit contractual arrangement to be paid. The state holds all power regarding copyright infringement protection. Thus, the right to exclude others has been expropriated or abandoned.

constitution.republic.1916_theusindependentInterstate Activity is governed by the federal Commerce Clause

Imagine a former Pennsylvania prisoner moving to Texas. She signs with an agent in New York, and a recording contract in Tennessee. After her album is released, Pennsylvania’s attorney general determines that the songs create temporary mental anguish for the victim of a personal injury. Furthermore, the state attempts to seize all royalties under the “Son of Sam” law and the attorney general files various injunctions in various jurisdictions. Because she is on a national tour, her record label, agency, and every local vendor is expected to comply.

In such a morass of litigation, some entities may try to comply and yet not know how. Others may feel the creative material does not fall under the statute. Others may believe Pennsylvania lacks jurisdiction to enforce any orders, outside their own state. This is clearly interstate commerce, being regulated and burdened with an obstacle by state statutes. It is for just such a reason that the federal government holds exclusive powers to regulate.[15]

The “Mumia” Law is simply unconstitutional on multiple grounds

The state has a legitimate interest in compensating the victims of crime. It is more challenging to stop all mental anguish through the power of the courts. Furthermore, it makes no sociological or historical sense to suppress the creativity and insights of convicted artists and intellectuals. Where states have legitimate interests, they also have a responsibility to pursue them in ways least offensive to constitutional principles of Copyright, First Amendment, Due Process, and Equal Protection.

The issue is a classic slippery slope. Whether complicated by exonerations, repealed laws, drug prohibition (and legalization), political acts, or controversial convictions,[16] there are many people potentially exposed to “Son of Sam” and the new Pennsylvania “Mumia” law.[17] To avoid a legal quagmire, state laws of this nature should be repealed or abandoned through litigation or legislation.  Whereas Mumia Abu-Jamal has long represented a test case for the rights of incarcerated people to speak, his claims (along with Robert Holbrook and Kerry Shakaboona) should include Pennsylvania’s unlawful encroachment on federal copyright protections.

Read the complete legal article, “Making a Record With a Criminal Record” HERE.

[1] In years past, it was common for attorneys in such cases to take over such rights in exchange for representation. The Code of Ethics has been modified, as this practice carries the potential to influence the lawyers’ behavior to make a better story.

[2] The Son of Sam law supplements pre-existing statutory schemes authorizing the Board to compensate crime victims for their losses, see: N.Y. EXEC. LAW § 631 (McKinney 1982 and Supp. 1991), permitting courts to order the proceeds of crime forfeited to the State; N.Y. CIV. PRAC. LAW §§ 1310–1352 (McKinney Supp. 1991), providing for orders of restitution at sentencing, N.Y. PENAL LAW § 60.27 (McKinney 1987), and affording prejudgment attachment procedures to ensure that wrongdoers do not dissipate their assets, N.Y. CIV. PRAC. LAW §§ 6201–6226 (McKinney1980 and Supp. 1991). The escrow arrangement established by the Son of Sam law enhances these provisions only insofar as the accused or convicted person earns income within the scope of § 632–a(1). See: Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105, 111 (1991)

[3] 18 U.S.C.A. § 3681 (West).

[4] See below.

[5] Id., at 323. Other defendants in this case are Peter Maas, the author of the book, T.J.M. Productions, Inc. (which the Board alleges Maas created in order to funnel compensation to Gravano for his work on the book and a movie) and International Creative Management, Inc., agent for T.J.M. and Maas as well as Gravano.

[6] State ex rel. Napolitano v. Gravano, 60 P.3d 246 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2002), holding: (1) application of forfeiture statutes to royalties from book did not violate constitutional free speech guarantees; (2) royalties had causal connection with racketeering as required for forfeiture; and (3) state had jurisdiction over forfeiture proceeding. Incidentally, the New York Crime Victims Board unsuccessfully brought a claim against Gravano, with the New York appellate court holding that the Board, itself, has no standing to bring a cause of action because a victim is needed. New York State Crime Victims Bd. v. T.J.M. Prods., Inc., 705 N.Y.S.2d 320 (2000).

[7] U.S. CONST. Art. VI.

[8] Most recently in Arizona, where certain portions of a law aimed at immigrants were struck down, while others were left untouched. The Supreme Court decided to wait and see how the state applied the law. See: Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 567 U.S. ___ (2012). Cf. Chamber of Commerce of U.S. v. Whiting, 131 S. Ct. 1968, 179 L. Ed. 2d 1031 (2011) (Provision of Arizona law allowing suspension and revocation of business licenses fell within Immigration Reform and Control Act’s (IRCA) explicit savings clause.)

[9] Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218, 230 (1947).

[10] Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005).

[11] e.g. NY EXEC. LAW §632-a (McKinney).

[12] 17 U.S.C.A. § 106 (1982).

[13] § 201(e). The Act provides in pertinent part:

“Involuntary Transfer. When an individual author’s ownership of a copyright, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, has not previously been transferred voluntarily by that individual author, no action by any governmental body or other official or organization purporting to seize, expropriate, transfer, or exercise rights of ownership with respect to the copyright, or any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, shall be given effect under this title except as provided under Title 11.” The exception for Title 11 allows a bankruptcy court to transfer copyrights.

The Copyright Act was amended by Pub. L. No. 95-598, § 313, 92 Stat. 2676 (1978); Bankruptcy Act: 11 U.S.C.A. §§ 101-1,330 (Supp. 1988).

[15] U.S. CONST. Art. I § 8

[16] e.g. Mumia Abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier, the “Angola Three,” and Mike Tyson.

[17] Some artists who were convicted of crimes that involve a victim include Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Immortal Technique, Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), Chuck Berry, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (TLC), Johnny Paycheck, Jim Gordon (Derek and the Dominoes; co-writer of “Layla”), James Brown, Merle Haggard, Leadbelly, Rick James, Phil Spector, David Allan Coe, Wilson Pickett, The Prisonaires, Saigon, Big Lurch, C-Murder, and Styles P; as well as notables such as O.J. Simpson, and political figures such as George Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.

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Dropping the “F-Bomb” on Politicians: The Problem of Felon Disenfranchisement

voting-boothThe Washington Post recently brought up the important annual awareness of roughly 6 million people denied voting rights due to a felony conviction. Unfortunately, they are mistaken to sum up the problem as a “disproportionate effect on blacks.” Indeed any legitimate conversation on America’s prison problem must include racial issues, however the real landscape is broader.

America has a history of reserving the right to vote for as small an electorate as possible. That history has been eroded by various groups over the years, while those in power have targeted new groups to exclude. The irony of recent Voter ID laws, purported to target undocumented immigrants, is that hardly any restrictions impeded immigrant voters when they were White men. And whenever I hear any mention of the Florida fiasco of 2000, I like to point out that many of the 173,000 purged voters merely had a similar name to a person convicted of a felony. If not for such a law, we may have missed the Bush II era.  This issue is about citizenship and community building. Its an America issue, not just a Black one.

When I was released from prison, I was no longer a citizen. I was stripped of what is universally considered the fundamental right of citizenship, as voting is the right through which all other rights are created and enforced. At 32 years old, I had never voted, never had a direct impact on governance, and (most importantly) never felt like an American citizen. I faced many other legal forms of discrimination (employment and housing, for instance) and dealt with a daily sense of ostracism. Prison was one of the few places where I felt accepted.

Uniting with grassroots organizers was my only pathway to citizenship. Along with members of Direct Action for Rights and Equality and others, we wrote our own constitutional amendment in Rhode Island, got it on the ballot, and took the question to the people. We spoke with thousands of voters, many of whom meekly shared that someone in their own family was disenfranchised; someone who they would encourage to be part of the community rather than pushed away into the shadows where crime and addiction thrive. Over the past two generations, Rhode Island has issued 250,000 unique prison ID numbers. That is 25% of the state’s population. The Bureau of Justice Statistics count 79 million people in state conviction databases. That is nearly a third of all the adults in America.

I won my own right to vote in Rhode Island, but then lost it again when crossing state lines to attend law school. Naturally, it only took me a few weeks to discover the strange legal basis for losing my voting rights. After a year I had compiled a massive research paper on the racial history of felon disenfranchisement in Louisiana. Yet, the racist intent of the Post-Reconstruction Era is what took my citizenship away yet again. Until 1900, I would have had no problem voting, as I am White.  Naturally, Louisiana’s power elite were not unique.  Just as free labor, aka slavery, creates massive profits- so too does the cheap labor of destabilized and incarcerated communities.

Whenever a politician, including judges and district attorneys, ask for my vote, I like to challenge them on why they need it. They typically will go into a short snippet on supporting what is good for the community, and how they bring it. If I ask the purpose of voting at all (and they know half of people don’t bother), they will talk about “civic duty,” and “rights of citizenship,” and how “the entire community needs me to take part,” and “think about the children who need a voice,” and on and on. They never give any caveat about, ‘unless you have a felony conviction.’

I always drop it on them, but I like to lure them in first. I am very much a part of helping the community, have a law degree, pay taxes… but have been stripped of my citizenship. They give me a look of confusion, typically, and then a sense that I am wasting their time (as they are trying to get votes). Its like when you are talking to someone and thinking how amazing they are, and you want to ask them on a date, and just as you’re getting up the courage- they mention their partner and all of a sudden the only thing you hear is “blah, blah, blahhh…” Dropping the “F-Bomb” on a politician generally makes them go numb.

The racial impact is very real, but all people with felony convictions have an intense disproportionate impact on working class communities. My daughter may grow up to identify as Latina, White, Black, or Other, but that is irrelevant to my involvement on issues like education, health care, and public safety. Like any parent, I want our community to be a safe and healthy space where she can feel a sense of belonging. I don’t want her to feel like it is best to abandon ship or, like her Dad, feel like nobody wants her around.

Some have always prospered on the backs of others. It isn’t necessarily a race thing, but racism is an important ingredient to keeping that dynamic alive. Racism is an implicit justification for unjust enrichment, not the other way around.  It serves to justify Voter ID laws as well as felon disenfranchisement, especially where the voice of racism has become a steady soft whisper, rather than the sharp staccato of a bullhorn. These sentiments spurred such laws’ creation and keep the unspoken justifications alive; but to measure the impacts on American democracy solely by racial impact only serves to reinforce the racist rationale.

States have no authority to take away someone’s citizenship, but that is what felon disenfranchisement does. Creating a large class of “other” people does nothing but divide and weaken us all.

 

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