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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

• 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.

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.

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.

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. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  2. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.

  3. (A)ll (C)riminals (L)ove (U)s is up to their old, "If it's honorable and pro-American, we're against it," nonsense. I'm not a big Pence fan but at least he's showing his patriotism which is something the left won't do.

  4. While if true this auto dealer should be held liable, where was the BMV in all of this? How is it that the dealer was able to get "clean" titles to these vehicles in order to sell them to unsuspecting consumers?

  5. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless [ ] Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. GOD BLESS THE GOVERNORS RESISTING! Count on the gutless judiciary to tie our children down and facilitate the swords being drawn across their throats. Wake Up America ...