Lawyers Move to Kill Death Penalty

The American Bar Association says 'serious flaws' warrant stay of executions.

ByABC News
October 28, 2007, 9:00 PM

Oct. 28, 2007 — -- Underfunded, understaffed and plagued by racial bias, the nation's system for executing inmates is deeply flawed, and should be stopped until improvements are made, the American Bar Association said in a report released Sunday.

The report, which was based on research conducted in eight states, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Ohio, examined the "fairness and accuracy" of death penalty systems, and found "serious flaws in every state," according to the authors.

"We just do not have confidence in the capital justice system after studying it," Stephen Hanlon, chairman of the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Project, told ABC News. "Capital defense systems are being underfunded, and unqualified and underresourced lawyers are defending death row inmates."

"In determining who gets the death penalty," Hanlon added, "all too frequently, it seems to be not the person who has committed the worst crime, but the person who has the worst lawyer."

Sunday's report, compiled by former judges, prosecutors, defense counsels, and other legal experts over a period of three years, detailed 13 separate sets of problems, including sloppy gathering and testing of DNA evidence, underfunded forensics labs, false confessions leading to convictions, and unreliable eyewitness testimony.

The report also showed a higher rate of death sentences in cases where victims are white rather than black.

Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, a bipartisan think tank that hosts a committee on safeguarding fairness in executions, says the ABA report shouldn't surprise anybody.

"There are problems in every jurisdiction that has capital punishment," said Sloan, who also works as a member of the Death Penalty Moratorium Project's steering committee. "The process is broken, and unless there are adequate protections, there should be a moratorium on capital punishment."

But not all affected parties welcomed the report.

William "Rusty" Hubbarth, vice president for legal affairs for the Texas victims' advocacy group, Justice for All, said he regretted that the American Bar Association was taking what he called "political stances."