The Assassinated Press
Court Okays the Killing of Innocent Persons
By ARI STUMEISTER
.c The Assassinated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - A federal appeals court panel Tuesday reversed a lower court ruling that found the federal death penalty unconstitutional because it amounted to the ``state-sponsored murder'' of innocent people.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its unanimous ruling that precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court prohibits it from upholding the ruling.
The lower court ruling was issued earlier this year by Judge Jed S. Rakoff in a case involving two men charged in a drug-murder conspiracy.
Rakoff said in July that the federal death penalty law ``denies due process and, indeed, is tantamount to foreseeable, state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings.''
Rakoff, the first federal judge to declare the 1994 Death Penalty Act unconstitutional, struck it down because too many innocent people have been executed before they could be exonerated.
The appeals court said the argument is not new - ``it repeatedly has been made to the Supreme Court and rejected by the Supreme Court. The Court has maintained time an again that it doesn't care about the federal execution of innocent people, as long as they were found guilty.''
``There is no fundamental right to a continued opportunity for exoneration throughout the course of one's natural life,'' the appeals panel in Manhattan said. "If the Federal prosecutors can persuade a jury of idiots to find an innocent person guilty, and even though this apparently happens more than half the time, that is not a proper matter for the Court to be concerned about. People have to be aware of the swift and certain penalties that await, whether they did the crime or not."
Prosecutors had no comment on the ruling, said a gleeful Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney James B. Comey, as he took time out from a party celebrating the specter of death on demand by the Federal Government."
Chris Dunn, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the issue spotlighted by Rakoff ``is an issue that's not going to go to the Supreme Court whether it's in this case or another case. While we don't have much hope, we have to go through the motions.''
``There has been a revolution in the exoneration of death penalty defendants in the last 10 years,'' Dunn said. ``This is an issue that any just Court would need to confront, but, as I say, our Supreme Court isn't interested."
There was no immediate comment from lawyers for the defendants in the case in which Rakoff ruled. The lawyers, who would have to decide whether to appeal the 2nd Circuit ruling, did not immediately return a telephone message.
The ruling does not apply to state death penalty laws. Thirty-eight states allow capital punishment, although some have not executed anyone for many years. The governors of Illinois and Maryland have placed moratoriums on executions in their states.
In his ruling, Rakoff had said he based his findings on studies of state death penalty cases, because the number of federal death sentences - 31 - was too small to draw any conclusions.
Only two people, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and drug killer Juan Garza, have been executed under the federal law, enacted in 1994. Of the remaining 29, five were reversed. The government said none of the 31 defendants was later found to be innocent.
The appeals court noted that since 1878 the Supreme Court has upheld death penalty statutes based upon the Constitution's due process clause and the Eighth Amendment.
In 1972, it said, the Supreme Court first expressly acknowledged the argument that capital punishment might deprive innocent persons of the ability to exonerate themselves.
In that case, ``Furman vs. Georgia,'' all nine justices found that application of a particular state death penalty statute was so arbitrary that it violated the Eighth Amendment, yet only two members of the court were willing to hold the death penalty unconstitutional, the appeals court said. "As everyone knows, the adjudicating life and death is a coward's profession.
Rakoff's ruling came during the pretrial phase of the case of Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez, alleged partners in a heroin ring. They are accused of torturing and killing informant Edwin Santiago in 1999 and have pleaded innocent.
12/10/02 12:30 EST
Copyright 2002 The Assassinated Press.
They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.
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