Archive | July 2014

Death Penalty: Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

hispanic men

For many death penalty opponents, the recently botched executions that have made the national headlines serve to highlight the fact that the death penalty is in fact cruel and usual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. The state of Arizona’s execution of Joseph Wood III on July 23 took nearly two hours, with witnesses reporting that Wood gasped and snorted over six hundred (600) times during the procedure. Mr. Wood was executed using midazolam and hyrdromorphone, the same drug protocol used in January’s botched execution of Dennis McGuire.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had stayed Joseph Wood’s execution and ordered the state to release information about the source of the lethal injection drugs and the training of those who would carry out the execution, but the stay was lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court on July 22, allowing the state to maintain secrecy.

Attorneys for Joseph Wood tried to file an emergency request to halt the execution because Joseph Wood was still awake an hour into the procedure. Dale Baich, one of Wood’s attorneys, said, “I’ve witnessed a number of executions before and I’ve never seen anything like this. Nor has an execution that I observed taken this long.”


Arizona Governor Jan Brewer ordered a review of the execution, saying she was “concerned by the length of time” that it took. The director of the Department of Corrections said they will conduct a full review and are waiting on results of a toxicology study and autopsy.

Our nation has struggled with the question of the appropriateness of capital punishment as a criminal sanction for decades. According to the Death Penalty Information enter, there are thirty-four (34) states with the death penalty and sixteen (16) without this criminal sanction. Opponents to capital punishment assert that the criminal justice system is riddled with injustice and error under these conditions the death penalty must be halted. Some argue that there is a wealth of evidence that proves the ineffectiveness of the death penalty in achieving its states goals.

According to recent opinion polls[i], the majority of American voters (61%) prefer other criminal sanctions for murder convictions as opposed to the death penalty and some in law enforcement question its effectiveness. A 2009 poll commissioned by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) found police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among the strategies employed to reduce violent crimes[ii] and viewed it as the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money.[iii]

Opponents of the death penalty, both in the United States and around the world, assert that not only is it costly, it is also immoral, ineffective, and discriminatory. They assert that the death penalty is often used disproportionately against the poor and people of color. Human beings and systems created by humans are fallible. With that said, the risk of executing innocent persons can never be completely eliminated from the criminal justice system as evidence by the annual number of death row inmate exonerations.

7 Handcuffs

How many death row inmates have been exonerated on average per year? “From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3.1 death row inmate exonerations per year. This has caused many in the legal community to assert that our criminal justice system is riddled with errors.” [iv] Annually, the number of death prisoner exonerations has increased. [v] On average, there has been an average of five (5) exonerations per year from 2000-2007.[vi]

We are reminded about the high costs associated with putting a person on death row by many members of the legal community as well as death row opponents. The costs associated with death penalty cases include but are not limited to: criminal investigation related costs; lengthy trials and appeals; and most importantly, the possible execution of an innocent person. These factors have led many states to reconsider the validity of capital punishment.

In 2009, New Mexico abolished the death penalty.[vii] This year, Illinois’ governor signed a death penalty ban into law in March.[viii] Illinois is the sixteenth state to abolish the death penalty.[ix] In addition to ending capital punishment, Illinois’ governor also commuted the sentences of the fifteen (15) inmates on death row in that state[x]. Instead of death sentences, the inmates will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.[xi] Illinois’ ban on executions took effect on July 1, 2011.[xii]

According to the Bureau of Prisons, there are fifty-seven (57) people on death role in the federal penal system[xiii]. There are thousands more on death row in state prisons across the country[xiv]. Eighty percent of all executions occur in the southern portion of the United States[xv]. One of the most highly discussed death penalty cases in recent history is that of Troy Anthony Davis[xvi] in Savannah, Georgia. For more than a decade, this capital punishment case captured the attention of countless people not only in the United States (e.g. President Carter, former Congressman Bob Barr) but also people all around the world (e.g. The Pope and Nobel Prize winner cleric Desmund Tutu).

praying woman

For persons opposed to capital punishment or those seeking a moratorium, the Davis case undergirds their assertion that wrongful convictions occur and the death penalty must be halted at a minimum until the errors which occur in the criminal justice system have been remedied. Opponents to the death penalty assert that not only do wrongful convictions occur in this country but also innocent people have been sentenced to die[xvii] and some have been executed. With that said, should the death penalty be abolished nationwide?

The number of death row prisoner exonerations which occur on an annual basis as well as high profile death penalty cases such as Troy Davis where there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime serve to remind us that serious questions still persist about the legitimacy of the death penalty as a criminal sanction. The topic of capital punishment often generates lively discussions about the appropriateness of government sanctioned taking of human lives. It is my hope that this series will generate thoughtful conversations about the death penalty. Toward that goal, I will examine the often controversial topic of the death penalty in the next three (3) blog posts. Specifically, I will examine: (1) a case where the defendant was found guilty of murder and he was not sentenced to death; (2) whether or not capital punishment accomplishes its stated goals; and (3) public opinions on the death penalty.

For further information concerning this pressing topic, an important resource is the Death Penalty Information Center’s website. If you are interested in working to abolish the death penalty, many resources can be found on the Amnesty International website including: petitions, fact sheets, organizing materials, as well as helpful suggestions on how to get involved and take action to end the death penalty.

Sources: The Council of the American Law Institute (ALI); Death Penalty Information Center; Politico (March 9, 2011); Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial, “Juries Know Better”, May 20, 2011; Amnesty International; NAACP;…/pope-makes-plea-spare-life-troy-davis; and the Innocence Project. Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art.

[i] A 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners and 2009 poll commissioned by DPIC.

[ii] Death Penalty Information Center Website

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] As indicated on the Death Penalty Information Center website, according to the Staff Report, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Constitutional Rights, printed in October 1993, with updates from DPIC, since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. From 1973-1999, there was an average 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000-2007, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Death Penalty Information Center Website

[viii] Politico, March 9, 2011.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Bureau of Prisons’ website.

[xiv] According to the Death Penalty Information Center, as of January 1, 2010, there were 3,621 persons on death row in the United States.

[xv] Amnesty International

[xvi] Ibid. “Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer in 1991. Nearly two decades later, Davis remains on death row — even though the case against him has fallen apart. On March 28, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Troy Davis’ appeals and set the stage for him to possibly face a fourth execution date. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony.

Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis. One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester “Red” Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.”—Amnesty International

[xvii] As indicated on the Death Penalty Information Center website, according to the Staff Report, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Constitutional Rights, printed in October 1993, with updates from DPIC, since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. From 1973-1999, there was an average 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000-2007, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year.

Additional Sources: Death Penalty Information Center

Photos: Microsoft Clip Art

Child Witnesses

Scared Girl

Every 9 seconds in the United States a woman is assaulted or beaten. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually. It has been reported that men who as children witnessed their parents’ domestic violence were twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents. Child witnesses to domestic violence often have life-long effects. Please read the data below regarding child witnesses to domestic violence.

•Between 3.3 million and 25 million children experience domestic violence in their homes each year.

 •The average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is 9 years old. 50 percent of homeless women and children are fleeing abuse in the home.
•Children who live in homes where their mothers are battered are 50% more likely to be beaten themselves. Research indicates that 50 to 70 percent of men who physically abuse their wives also frequently abuse their children.

 •In one study, 27% of domestic homicide victims were children. When children are killed during a domestic dispute, 90% are under age 10; 56% are under age 2. Children from homes where their mothers is beaten suffer eating and sleeping disorders, have headaches, ulcers, rashes, depression, and anxiety caused by the trauma of witnessing abuse.

praying little boy

 •They have a higher risk of abusing substances and becoming juvenile delinquents.

 •Eighty percent of teen runaways and homeless youth come from violent homes.

 •Girls from homes with domestic violence are 6.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted and more likely to become pregnant as teenagers.

 •A boy from a home where his mother is battered is 74% more likely to commit violence, including rape.

 •Boys who grow up in non-violent homes have one chance in 400 of becoming abusive adults, but boys who grow up in violent homes have one chance in two of becoming abusive adults.

 •Sixty-three percent of boys ages 11-20 arrested for homicide have killed their mother’s abuser.

Child Post

How are children affected by domestic violence?
•They exhibit “failure to thrive” symptoms, even as infants.
•They may exhibit “general aggressiveness” or violence to siblings or the
“victim parent” in ways that emulate the abusive parent.
•They may exhibit a pattern of “over-compliance” and fearfulness.
•They often suffer from low self-esteem.
•They often suffer poor health.
•They may have poor impulse control.
•They often experience academic problems.
•They live frequently ”disrupted lives” when the victim is forced to flee the home.
•They, along with their mothers, comprise nearly 40% of the homeless population in the U.S.
•They are sometimes injured during violent incidents in the home or the family
•They are more often abducted by the abuser parent than other children.
•They may have a fear and distrust of close relationships.
•They may become conflicted in taking sides with parents.
•They experience confusion over correct behavior.
•They experience psychosomatic complaints, i.e., stomachaches, headaches, stuttering, anxiety, fear, etc.
•They experience “night terrors” (waking up screaming in the night).
•They may wet the bed.
•They kill themselves more often than children who do not live with abuse.
•They are likely to repeat learned behaviors.

depressed teen girl
•They blame themselves for the violence or the inability to stop it and protect the victim parent.
•They often experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
•They are more likely to be victim of child physical and sexual abuse, most often by the abuser parent and less often by the victim.
•They are four times as likely to be arrested eventually.
•They are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.
•They are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior.
•They are more likely to commit crime against other persons and sexual assaults.


Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Fair Employment Act of 2014

Fair Employment Act of 2014

agency wide capacity building

What are some of the factors contributing to long-term unemployment? Some assert that unemployed workers are being discriminated against by prospective employers. In other words, when reviewing applicants some employers are only electing to interview workers that are currently employed. In response to this observed phenomena, in 2011 and again this year, Democratic members of congress introduced legislation to prevent discrimination against unemployed workers.

Representatives Rosa DeLauro’s of Connecticut and Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia introduced the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 and 2014, which would prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating against unemployed job-seekers by refusing to consider them for employment. According to Representatives Rosa DeLauro’s press release—

Serious Computer Users

“In today’s tough economy, more than 6 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months. But companies across the country have begun to require current employment to be considered for available positions, and these discriminatory practices are eliminating employment opportunities. The Fair Employment Opportunity Act will prevent employers and employment agencies from refusing to consider or offer employment to someone who is unemployed, or including language in any job advertisements or postings that states unemployed individuals are not qualified.

A survey, conducted by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), of four of the top job search websites,,,, and, found over 150 job advertisements that specified applicants must be currently employed. And the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey shows that there are 4.7 unemployed workers for every 1 job opening.”

The legislation, if passed by the House and Senate, would apply to employers with over fifteen (15) employees and would provide protection to job applicants who are discriminated against because they are unemployed. Key provisions of the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 include but are not limited to:

(a) Employers – It shall be an unlawful practice for an employer to–
1.Refuse to consider for employment or refuse to offer employment to an individual because of the individual’s status as unemployed;
2.Publish in print, on the Internet, or in any other medium, an advertisement or announcement for any job that includes—

– any provision stating or indicating that an individual’s status as unemployed disqualifies the individual for a job; and

– any provision stating or indicating that an employer will not consider an applicant for employment based on that individual’s status as unemployed; and

3.Direct or request that an employment agency take an individual’s status as unemployed into account in screening or referring applicants for employment.

Workplace Woman

Representatives Rosa DeLauro’s press release aptly states that, “In a tough job market, where workers are competing against tens and sometimes hundreds of others for every available job opening, it is unjust for employers to discriminate against those who are unemployed. We have seen ample evidence that unemployed individuals are increasingly falling prey to discriminatory practices reducing their opportunities to be considered for a job. The Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 would prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating against unemployed job-seekers, and ensure that all Americans have the same opportunities for employment.

Discrimination against the unemployed – especially the long-term unemployed – in job advertisements and hiring practices flies in the face of what we stand for as a nation: Equal opportunity for all,” said Rep. Johnson. The Fair Employment Opportunity Act will help us level the playing field and get people back to work.”

Sources: Representatives Rosa DeLauro’s website, Representative Johnson’s website, and

Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art