Death Penalty Appeals: How Long is Too Long?

The Christian Science Monitor today examines the issue of lengthy appeals in death penalty cases, and poses an intriguing question: how long is too long to wait?

Reporter Warren Richey looked into an appeal filed by lawyers of Florida death row inmate William Lee Thompson, who’s been a dead man walking for 32 years. The U.S. Supreme Court decided recently to turn down the case, which argued that more than three decades on death row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Washington, less than 24 hours away from its first execution since 2001, will put to death a man convicted in 1993. And Washington’s longest serving death row inmate, who killed a 12-year-old girl in East Bremerton, has been there since 1991, an 18 year stay.

The Monitor’s story contains fascinating comments from supreme court justices, and their thoughts on such delays. Among them:

The Monitor says Justice John Paul Stevens wrote this opinion:

“Today, condemned inmates await execution for an average of nearly 13 years,” Stevens said. “This figure underscores the fundamental inhumanity and unworkability of the death penalty as it is administered in the United States.”

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote this, according to the Monitor:

“It makes a mockery of our system of justice … for a convicted murderer, who, through his own interminable efforts of delay … has secured the almost indefinite postponement of his sentence, to then claim that the almost-indefinite postponement renders his sentence unconstitutional,” Thomas wrote. “It is incongruous to arm capital defendants with an arsenal of ‘constitutional’ claims with which they may delay their executions, and simultaneously to complain when executions are inevitably delayed.”

3 thoughts on “Death Penalty Appeals: How Long is Too Long?

  1. Justice Clarence Thomas is one sensible guy!

    The mockery of these appeals insult the crime against innocent people and throw mud at the memory of the victim and their families.
    What did the victim do to deserve our legal system’s right to trample the victims right’ to justice?

    In my opinion…. Sharon O’Hara

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