Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tell Me Again that Gore and Bush Were "No Different"

by Ken Houghton

While this WSJ piece (free) speaks as if it is a good thing, one would think the "state's rights" people would see this as Yet Another Federal Intrusion:
Today, there are 47 people on federal death row -- more than double the number six years ago -- and Mr. Wilson this week became the seventh sentenced in a state without a death statute of its own since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988.

Let's put that 47 into context:
In 2000, there were 18 inmates on federal death row, but none were from a state that disallows capital punishment.

So there has been more than a 150% increase in Federal death penalty convictions in the past six year. Which means a lot more funds being spent on relatively few cases (since death penalty cases cost more to prosecute, regardless of whether they are successful; this, by the way, is a Good Thing); even Becker-Posner would likely view this as suboptimal resource allocation.

And who was the driving force behind this expansion. Why, the man who lost the 2000 Missouri Senate election to a dead man:
Things began to change in 2002, when federal prosecutors secured a death sentence in Michigan, a state without a death penalty. A year later, Mr. [John] Ashcroft ordered U.S. attorneys in New York and Connecticut to seek death penalties against 12 defendants even though prosecutors handling the cases had recommended against doing so or decided not to pursue capital charges. At the time, the Justice Department said there shouldn't be "one standard in Georgia and another in Vermont."

"There's all this talk about how death row is declining, but that's not true for the federal system," said Ruth Friedman, director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, a federally funded program that assists lawyers in the post-conviction stage of capital cases.

Anyone who thinks the break date being 2000 is coincident should be strongly disabused:
Eric Holder, a former U.S. attorney in Washington who was deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration, said that in the 1990s, he and then-Attorney General Janet Reno weren't as likely to override a local federal prosecutor who didn't think a crime warranted capital punishment.

Overriding local federal prosecutors "was relatively rare during the Clinton years," Mr. Holder said. "Having both been local prosecutors, we really deferred to our U.S. attorneys' understanding that they knew their local situations."

The Justice Department declined to comment on this point.

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