Charlottesville prosecutor, police chief join call for end to federal death penalty

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Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania and Police Chief RaShall Brackney have joined a bipartisan group of 60 current elected prosecutors, nine former U.S. Attorneys and 14 current and former police chiefs and sheriffs calling for an immediate halt to federal executions.

The group issued a joint statement last week calling for an immediate halt to federal executions and asking President Trump to commute the sentences of the five people now scheduled to be executed by the federal government over the next two months.

The signatories warn that a rush to carry out executions in the midst of a pandemic, and in the final days of the current administration, would compromise trust in the American legal system and perpetuate a deeply flawed and unjust process.

“The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 continues the practices of racial terror established long before its formal enactment. The rush to execute not only seeks to permanently erase black and brown communities, it highlights the inequities of application and lack of justice in the Criminal-Legal System during a national pandemic,” Dr. Brackney said.

Platania concurred with  Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, the organizer of the statement and a former federal prosecutor who stated that, “the death penalty is a cruel, ineffective, unjust punishment and does nothing to improve public safety. Rushing to execute people in the midst of a presidential transition and at a time when COVID-19 is surging would seriously undermine the public’s already-damaged trust in the justice system, and thus erode public safety.”

The United States was one of only 20 countries, and the only Western democracy, to use the death penalty last year, and is far more likely to impose the punishment in cases involving Black defendants or white victims.

Since 1973, at least 172 people on death row have been exonerated, while the National Academy of Sciences estimates that over 4 percent of death row prisoners are innocent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified concerns with application of the death penalty, making it impossible for many attorneys to effectively represent their clients, investigate last-minute leads, introduce new witness testimony, or even see their clients in person.

The statement calls on the president to commute all outstanding federal death sentences to life imprisonment. This is “an extreme punishment, commensurate with the most egregious of crimes,” the law enforcement and criminal justice leaders argue, but avoids the injustice and flawed process inherent in the application of the death penalty.

The signatories also point to the inextricable connection between trust in the justice system and public safety: “When people believe the state is executing a person, or applying the death penalty, unjustly – as do many in our nation who oppose the death penalty in increasing numbers – their trust in our system of government and law enforcement is undermined. Our jobs get harder, as do the jobs of others who seek to keep our communities safe.”


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