A Missouri law panel says crimes punishable by the death penalty are too broad in our state. The American Bar Association report calls for consistency and clarification in state law.
Missouri is the tenth state for which the American Bar Association has released an in-depth analysis — 400 pages worth — of the death penalty. St. Louis Attorney Douglas Copeland was on the panel that has examined the system for two years.
He makes one thing clear — it was not the panel’s function to decide whether there should be a death penalty, or that a moratorium should be implemented.
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys responded to that by issuing a statement that says, “Missouri’s prosecutors are pleased the ABA did not recommend a moratorium on the death penalty, as they have in many other states. They obviously realize that, while there is always room for improvement, Missouri’s criminal justice system is fundamentally sound.”
The group did identfiy several factors it says leads to possible inconsistencies in sentencing, including mental illness, preservation of DNA evidence and trial court instruction for jurors. Now, prosecutors can argue to a jury that someone should be sentenced to death, the report says. It lists 17 aggravating circumstances that give prosecutors a wide birth for recommending the death penalty.
Prosecutors responded by saying they “work hard every day to ensure that the guilty are punished and the innocent are protected.”
Still, MU law professor Rodney Uphoff says there is a lot of room for error, and he’s sure there are innocent people on death row throughout the United States.
Uphoff says the lack of a mandate to preserve physical evidence is one that lends to wrongful incarcerations and executions.
The panel says any changes would have to be legislated. He says the American Bar Association will work with legislators, law enforcement and the courts to work toward these reforms.
AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports (1:20)