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The evolution of capital punishment

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Cost of Justice

The Indiana Lawyer takes a historical look at how the death penalty system has evolved during the past 40 years and how Indiana has amended its practices and procedures through the decades.


1972
The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the death penalty with its ruling in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), holding that all state death penalty sentencing statutes were unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause because they allowed for arbitrary and capricious imposition.

1973
The Indiana General Assembly enacted a new death penalty sentencing statute, but a 1976 SCOTUS decision in Woodson v. North Carolina struck down a similar statute. The Indiana Supreme Court later struck down this state’s revised death penalty statute.

1976
Now-retired Justice John Paul Stevens joined with a U.S. Supreme Court majority in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), which overruled Furman v. Georgia and helped pave the way for states to re-enact capital punishment.

1977
Indiana reintroduced capital punishment, and that sentencing statute remains in effect today.

1981
Indiana saw its first execution following the death penalty’s re-enactment. The defendant was Steven Judy, who’d been sentenced a year earlier but waived non-mandatory appeals.

1987
Indiana increased the minimum age of a person eligible for execution from 10 to 16.

1989
The state General Assembly created the Indiana Public Defender Commission to set standards for capital attorneys, and it authorized the commission to reimburse counties 50 percent of defense costs in capital cases.

1990-92
The Indiana Supreme Court established Criminal Rule 24 to set mandatory standards for appointing and compensating trial and appellate counsel in death penalty cases.

1993
The Indiana General Assembly created Life Without Parole as a sentencing option in capital murder cases, and a year later prosecutors were given the authority to ask for LWOP rather than requesting a death sentence.

1994
The Indiana General Assembly banned the execution of the mentally retarded, a legislative decision that preceded the 2002 SCOTUS ruling in Atkins v. Virginia that held the same.

1995
Indiana changed the method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection.

2002
Indiana increased the minimum age of a person eligible for execution from 16 to 18, a decision that preceded the 2005 SCOTUS ruling that held executing anyone under 18 was cruel and unusual.

2007
• An American Bar Association panel of Indiana attorneys and legal scholars issued a report calling for a moratorium on the state’s death penalty on the grounds that the state lacks the ability for its appellate courts to review whether different crimes merit that penalty. Legislation followed in subsequent years, but did not gain approval.
• In honor of the late Sen. Anita Bowser (D-Michigan City), the Indiana Senate created an interim study commission to examine the issue of executing the mentally ill. That commission voted to recommend a bill that would exempt defendants identified to have serious mental illness, but no definition of that term was agreed on and a bill introduced in 2008 was not enacted. No further action has been taken.

2008
In Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008), Justice Stevens voted with the majority in upholding Kentucky’s method of lethal injection because he felt bound by stare decisis. However, he issued a concurrence in that case that put him with three other former justices in concluding that state-sanctioned killing (capital punishment) is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

2010
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller held a criminal justice summit at Notre Dame Law School to discuss the economic impact of capital punishment. A final report is being submitted to Indiana legislators, but no legislation was introduced in 2011 as a result of that conference.

2011
In March, Illinois became the 16th state to ban executions, a move that came a decade after Illinois imposed a moratorium on the death penalty due to concern about wrongful convictions. This follows what other states have done on grounds of wrongful conviction and exoneration trends, fiscal considerations, or public policy changes at the state level.

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  1. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  2. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  3. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  4. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  5. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

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