Tags: Supreme Court | death penalty | vermont | donald fell | judge | supreme court

US Judge Slams Death Penalty: SCOTUS Must Change Law

Image: US Judge Slams Death Penalty: SCOTUS Must Change Law

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

By    |   Tuesday, 13 Dec 2016 06:54 PM

A federal judge in Vermont Tuesday slammed the death penalty as an arbitrarily imposed punishment "in which chance and bias play leading roles," but he ruled that only the U.S. Supreme Court can determine whether it is unconstitutional.

In a 57-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford said Donald Fell's challenge to the constitutionality of the federal death penalty statute rested with the Supreme Court, BuzzFeed News reports.

"Institutional authority to change this body of law is reserved to the Supreme Court," Crawford wrote. "For this reason, the trial court is required to deny the defense motions related to the constitutionality of the death penalty."

The decision came in Fell's second federal trial over a 2000 carjacking that ended with death. His first conviction was overturned in 2014 because of juror misconduct.

Crawford, who was sworn to the bench that year, said that no consensus existed nationwide on opposition to the death penalty.

He addressed the issue in a challenge of "proportionality" to the application of the penalty by Fell's lawyers.

The judge found that reforms seeking to ensure that the death is more fairly imposed over the past four decades have "largely failed" — in light of the Supreme Court's 1972 decision led to a four-year national moratorium on the death penalty.

"Gregg is still the law of the land," Crawford wrote, referring to the 1976 decision that ended the moratorium, BuzzFeed reports.

As such, Supreme Court retains the "prerogative alone to overrule one of its precedents."

In his decision, Crawford also referenced the findings from a hearing he held this summer on the issue. He found that many people who oppose the death penalty are excluded from jury service in capital cases, BuzzFeed reports.

"The exclusion of many people opposed to the death penalty on religious or moral grounds and the implicit process of persuasion at voir dire that death is the likely outcome create jury populations which stack the deck against defendants," Crawford wrote. "The studies brought to the court's attention supported the position of the defense that jury selection since Gregg is not the solution to inherent jury bias but rather a substantial part of the problem."

Therefore, "the more carefully one reviews . . . the underlying case summaries, the more arbitrary the distinctions between cases become," he wrote.

Crawford then posed this question in Tuesday's decision: "Has actual experience borne out the promise for a more reliable system of capital punishment expressed in the Gregg decision?

"The evidence produced for the court answers the question in the negative."

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A federal judge in Vermont Tuesday slammed the death penalty as an arbitrarily imposed punishment "in which chance and bias play leading roles," but he ruled that only the U.S. Supreme Court can determine whether it is unconstitutional.
death penalty, vermont, donald fell, judge, supreme court
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2016-54-13
Tuesday, 13 Dec 2016 06:54 PM
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