Category Archives: Law Reform

Troy Davis, the Death Penalty and LWOP

Georgia executed Troy Davis for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail on Sept. 21, 2011. Though Davis is black and MacPhail was white, the racial makeup of the jury (7 blacks, 5 whites) muted some potential claims of racial bias. Instead, the controversy over Davis’ execution was based on claims that Davis might be innocent. The conviction was based largely on testimony from eyewitnesses, many of whom have signed affidavits stating that their testimony was wrong. Some blamed the police for coercing them into false testimony,

Despite the recantations and the ensuing protests, the existing justice system has perhaps worked as best it can. Davis’ execution was postponed at least twice, and his attorneys appeared in court and contested the conviction. However, in the absence of DNA evidence (or other scientific evidence) that might have cleared Davis, judges refused to believe the witnesses’ recantations rather than their trial testimony. “Buyers remorse,” after all, is common: witnesses who feel bad about contributing to convictions (especially those that produce death penalties) often say that their testimony was mistaken.

Ultimately, replacing the death penalty with LWOP sentences (Life in Prison With No Possibility of Parole) is the only long-term solution to situations like the Troy Davis case. In the absence of conclusive scientific evidence, the criminal justice system is simply incapable of guaranteeing either that he is guilty or that he is innocent. Perhaps a clear answer would emerge in the fullness of time, but even postponed execution dates establish time limits that expire. LWOP sentences protect society in two ways. They guarantee that murderers will never get out of prison, and also guarantee that we will not carry out wrongful executions.

‘Caylee’s Law’ Coming Soon?

A mere two days after a Florida jury decided that prosecutors failed to establish Casey Anthony’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt when it came to the murder of her daughter Caylee Anthony, comes news that legislatures in at least four states are planning to draft some version of a criminal statute they’re calling “Caylee’s Law.”

Though specifics of any final version of “Caylee’s Law” will likely vary from state to state, the idea is to require parents to quickly report a missing child (or the death of a child) to the proper authorities within a short time (such as 24 hours), or face conviction for a felony. Currently a plan for drafting “Caylee’s Law” is set in Florida, Oklahoma, New York and West Virginia, but it would be no surprise to see more states quickly fall in line behind those four. And the WSJ Law Blog reports that almost 100,000 people have also virtually “signed” an online petition calling for the creation of a federal version of “Caylee’s Law.”

In the Anthony case, Caylee Anthony’s disappearance was not reported to authorities for over a month. And while Casey Anthony was convicted of four counts of lying to police, she faced no additional charges for failing to report her daughter as missing, because Florida has no such law on the books. That may change soon — and not just in Florida. Stay tuned.