Archives

Commentary

In case you missed it, the Fayetteville Observer had this to say this morning about the dreadful proposal to expedite executions and keep the drugs used to do the dirty deed a secret:

“The legislative urgency to get North Carolina back into executing murderers has reached a fever pitch that looks a lot like bloodlust. It’s an ugly spectacle.

A bill approved by the state Senate late Monday would cast a shroud of secrecy over executions and could end physician participation in them….

This attempt to obscure the execution process comes at a time when serious questions are being raised about the death penalty, including two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court wondering in an opinion this year whether the death penalty is constitutional.

That debate will surely continue, and it should. We need thoughtful discussion of the issue and whether we’re imposing a fair sentence or simply seeking revenge for a terrible crime.

What we don’t need is a General Assembly slicing away at reasonable public understanding of the state’s execution protocols, instead choosing to wrap it all in secrecy.

We’d like to believe it’s still our government, not the personal property of a privileged few in the halls of state government.”

Meanwhile, Raleigh’s N&O put it this way yesterday:

“When the government is putting someone to death in the name of the people, the people have a right to know how it is being done.

But in a macabre and all-too-quick march toward resumption of the death penalty in North Carolina, Republican lawmakers are doing all they can to restart executions stalled since 2006 with a measure now in negotiation between the House and Senate that would drop a requirement that doctors be present at executions. The legislation also would keep confidential the drugs to be used in lethal injection executions.

This is a horribly misguided idea….

The death penalty is the one penalty that can’t be corrected. And DNA testing has revealed that some inmates convicted of crimes that could have brought the death penalty have been innocent. Rather than put executions on a fast track, North Carolina should abandon them altogether.”

Sadly, the bill passed the House today and will be sent to Governor McCrory shortly.

Commentary

The North Carolina Senate is scheduled to take up legislation this evening that would, among other worrisome things, strike a large and troubling blow for the cause of government secrecy. The subject is the death penalty and the legislation in question would specifically amend the state public records law to make clear that citizens will be prohibited from finding out information about the drugs that will be used kill people in their name — including who makes them. This is from an Associated Press story from last Thursday:

“The state Senate could vote as soon as next week on legislation clarifying executions are exempt from state requirements for the public rule-making process. That would allow officials to find new drugs for lethal injection more quickly and with less public review. The bill also eases restrictions on the types of drugs used and prohibits disclosing where they are manufactured.”

As bad is all of this is, however, listen to the explanation for this provision advanced by the bill’s main sponsor:

“When asked by a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee whether his bill decreased transparency, Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, said he agreed it did. But he argued that a certain level of secrecy was required to protect drug manufacturers.

‘If you tell them where the drug comes from, there will be 300 people outside the building,’ Daughtry said.”

In other words, lawmakers want to keep the drugs secret so that, well, so that no one will find out what they are or where they come from and then, perish the thought, use the information to communicate with the pharmaceutical companies that make them.

What an outrageous concept! Citizens using public information to find out the identities of the companies to whom their government is giving public funds to buy drugs to kill people in the public’s name and then, perhaps, exercising their First Amendment rights to target protests against those companies.

This from lawmakers who came to power championing “transparency” and an “open” and “small” government.

Perhaps the stunning hypocrisy of all this (not to mention the very troubling precedent that would be established) explains why the North Carolina Press Association (of which — full disclosure — NC Policy Watch is a member) opposes the legislation.

Let’s hope that, regardless of their views on the death penalty, lawmakers wake up to the real world dangers of this new provision and the symbolic, Big Brother-like message it sends.

Commentary

(This post has been updated — see below).

There’s good news and bad news from the North Carolina Senate today.

The good news is that this is the last day for Senate committees to meet during the 2015 session. Senators will undoubtedly bend this rule in the days to come, but as a general matter, the official end of committees is a good sign that a) the flood of dreadful new laws should slow down at least a little and b) lawmakers are beginning to kinda sorta think about ending this nightmare of a session.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that senators will almost certainly be ramming a bevy of bills through committee today with scarcely any review or public input.

In this troubling vein, check out the agenda for today’s Judiciary II Committee where members are scheduled to review ten — count ’em ten — bills in one meeting that will convene just two hours before the Senate floor session. And to make matters worse, included in this list are two especially problematic proposals that are all about death:

And, of course, to make matters even more worrisome, the Senate has a penchant for adding everything but the kitchen sink to such bills in last minute “committee substitutes.” Thus, for instance, while the Schaffer’s gun bill was significantly watered down prior to passage in the House, it seems entirely plaussible that senators will pull a new version of the bill out of their hats this morning.

(UPDATE: After an absurdly fast-paced and at times, borderline chaotic meeting in which many members of the public were not admitted due to the tiny committee room that was used, both bills were passed by voice votes and now move to the Senate floor.)

News

If you weren’t able to attend NC Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation with the nationally recognized Center for Death Penalty Litigation, that full program is now available online.

Last week’s event featured CDPL Executive Director retchen Engel, Senior Staff Attorney Ken Rose and Associate Director of Public Information Kristin Collins.

Please watch and then share this special presentation as they discuss their new research: On Trial for their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital Prosecutions.
YouTube Preview Image

Commentary

In case you missed it, the lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer does a fine job of summarizing the new and disturbing report from the good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation: “On Trial for Their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital prosecutions in North Carolina.”

As the editorial notes:

“District attorneys who choose to bring capital charges often do so as an expression of the public’s outrage over a heinous crime. But a new report suggests that putting a defendant on trial for his life also can involve another sort of outrage – the pursuit of flimsy cases at high cost to taxpayers and great damage to the accused.

The report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina looked at problems with death penalty cases from an unusual perspective. Instead of focusing on defendants who were wrongly convicted, the center studied 56 North Carolina capital cases brought between 1989 and 2015 that ended with an acquittal or dismissal of all charges

The finding of 56 cases is a remarkably high number over the past quarter-century given that the state’s death row population is 148. Presumably, prosecutors would not pursue costly, extended death penalty cases unless there was a high probability of a conviction. But the report found shoddy cases derailed by serious errors or misconduct, including witness coercion, evidence not properly disclosed and bungled investigations.”

The editorial concludes this way:

“In North Carolina, there have been no executions since 2006 because of concerns about the drugs used and the refusal of doctors to participate in a process that by law requires a doctor’s presence. Some in the North Carolina General Assembly are trying to streamline the path to execution by proposing a change that would allow medical personnel other than doctors to fulfill the required medical role.

This report adds another chapter to the evidence that the death penalty and the pursuit of it can border on being crimes in themselves. The record demands that the wrongs wrought by this pursuit of vengeance be ended by the pursuit of justice.”

NC Policy Watch will host a Crucial Conversation luncheon today at noon with the authors of the report. We’ll post the video of the event in the very near future.