28 March, 2011

Amnesty International report on the Death Penalty

Amnesty International has issued a report on the use of the Death Penalty in 2010 - see Amnesty News Item and the report itself.  The report indicates some reduction in the use of the Death Penalty though a considerable number of countries remain committed to its use - see The Guardian 28th March 2011 for a useful summary.

Some extracts from the main report:

In July 2010 the London-based Privy Council commuted the sentence of Earlin White, who had been sentenced to death for murder in Belize in 2003. In its judgement, the Privy Council indicated one reason for the commutation was the lack of assessment of the social welfare and psychiatric condition of the defendant at the time of sentencing. In June 2010 however, the Caribbean Court of Justice Act came into effect in Belize, renouncing the Privy Council and establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final Court of Appeal for all civil and criminal cases in the country. Transitional provisions allow for pending appeals to be considered by the Privy Council.

See Earlin White v The Queen [2010] UKPC 22.

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Executions were recorded in the USA in 2010 as follows: Texas (17), Ohio (8), Alabama (5), Mississippi (3), Oklahoma (3), Virginia (3), Georgia (2), Arizona (1), Florida (1), Louisiana (1), Utah (1) and Washington (1). Once again, the majority of executions in the USA were carried out in a handful of states. Utah and Washington carried out their first executions since 1999 and 2001 respectively.

In March 2011, Illinois abolished the death penalty - Illinois Governor signs bill ending death penalty..

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Persons with mental impairment executed in USA

In 2010, Amnesty International was also concerned by the execution in the USA of people with significant mental impairments or after trials during which the juries did not hear available mitigating evidence at the sentencing phase. Holly Wood, a 50-year-old African American man with significant mental impairments, was executed by lethal injection in Alabama on the evening of 9 September. He had spent 16 years on death row. The presentation of mitigating evidence at the sentencing was minimal. In particular, there was no evidence at all presented about Holly Wood's mental ability despite the lawyers being in possession of an expert report indicating that Wood operated, “at most, in the borderline range of intellectual functioning”. Four federal judges on three courts concluded that he was denied adequate legal representation at the sentencing stage of his 1994 trial.

Jeffrey Landrigan, a 50-year-old Native American man, was executed in Arizona, on 26 October. He had been sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of Chester Dyer. At his trial in 1990, his lawyer did not present any mitigating evidence on his background of abuse and deprivation or its effects on him. In 2007, the retired trial judge said that she would not have passed a death sentence if she had heard such mitigating evidence, especially the sort of expert mental health evidence that had been presented during the appeals process. The former judge was among witnesses who appeared at a clemency hearing in front of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency on 22 October 2010. She told the board that in her view Jeffrey Landrigan should have received a life sentence.


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Sodium Thiopental exports from the U.K.

A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs used to execute prisoners by lethal injection led to the suspension of some executions at the end of the year. By the end of 2010, the pharmaceutical company Hospira, the sole manufacturer or supplier of this drug in the USA, had begun discussions with the Italian authorities about Hospira’s intention to resume production of the drug at its plant in Italy.29 On 25 October, a day before Jeffrey Landrigan’s execution, the Arizona Attorney General revealed that the state had obtained sodium thiopental from an unidentified source in the United Kingdom (UK). Following campaigning by abolitionist groups, on 6 January 2011, the UK Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills made a statement to the High Court of Justice indicating that the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills would issue an order under s. 6 of the Export Control Act 2002 (ECA) controlling the export of sodium thiopental to the USA.

The Order made by the U.K. is the Export Control (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2010 which will remain in force until 28th November 2011.  It is not clear whether the British government will then issue a new Order.  The making of this Order does not necessarily prevent export of this drug but its export has to be licensed by the British government.

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Given difficulties with obtaining sodium thiopental it seems that some US States have turned to pentobarbital - see REPRIEVE 24th March which calls on the Danish company LUNDBECK not to supply this drug.

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