Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Moratorium Proposal in Georgia

"Lawmaker calls for death penalty halt," is the AP report via WTVM.

A Georgia Democrat is pushing a 2-year moratorium on death penalties to give lawmakers a chance to improve due process.

State Sen. Vincent Fort's proposal comes amid concerns about the case of Troy Davis, a condemned murderer who is asking a federal panel to exonerate him on grounds that he's a victim of mistaken identity.

The Atlanta Democrat's plan faces a tough challenge in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where lawmakers have proposed changes that would make Georgia 1 of 6 states that allow the death penalty without a unanimous jury decision.

The Georgia bill would allow a judge to impose a death sentence if at least 10 jurors vote for capital punishment. State law now requires a unanimous jury to return a death sentence.

The moratorium legislation is SB 175.

"State Sen. Fort Seeks Death Penalty Moratorium, Activists Oppose Jury Changes," is Jonathan Springston's report for Atlanta Progressive News.

A coalition of Georgia religious and human rights activists led by Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP) spent Tuesday, February 17, 2009, asking state lawmakers to put the death penalty on hold in Georgia, improve indigent defense, and to oppose an effort to allow non-unanimous jury decisions in death penalty cases.

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) and activists urged lawmakers to place a moratorium on all executions while the State studies potential blind spots in the system.

Fort said he filed a moratorium bill Tuesday, adding “further studies are necessary to make sure the State is doing its job” of protecting the innocent. The bill information is not yet available online as of press time.

"We should demand that we have a system where mistakes are held at a bare minimum," he said.

The Georgia General Assembly is also considering two bills that anti-death penalty activists say are harmful.

SB 42 would do away with the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council (GPDSC), a group that assures people who cannot afford legal defense are provided adequate and effective legal representation, and replace it with a single director appointed by the governor.

"This will dramatically weaken legal support for poor people," Sara Totonchi, chair of GFADP, said of SB 42 during a press conference at the State Capitol.

Activists say the GPDSC is well-designed but it was not been able to serve effectively because state lawmakers have been unwilling or unable to fully fund it.

Another bill, HB 32, would allow non-unanimous juries to issue a death sentence; this is the reintroduction of a bill Atlanta Progressive News also covered last Session.

Earlier coverage of Georgia legislation is here.

No comments: