On this Day: New York Court Overturns Death Penalty Law

Started by ScoopD (aka: Pam), June 24, 2008, 04:17:28 PM

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ScoopD (aka: Pam)

On June 24, 2004, the New York Court of Appeals nullified the 1995 law that brought back the death penalty to New York state, criticizing a "deadlock provision" in the law that violated the state's constitution.

30-Second Summary

In People vs. LaValle, the State Court of Appeals in Albany declared the state's capital punishment law unconstitutional, in a 4-3 decision.

The law decreed that if a jury reached deadlock when considering whether to impose the death penalty, the trial judge would be required to implement a sentence that would make the defendant eligible for parole in 20 to 25 years. The court held that this provision may coerce jurors to vote for the death penalty, given that the only alternative was the eventual release of a person charged with murder, and thus violated the state's constitution.

In a later ruling in People v. John Taylor in October 2007, the Court of Appeals re-affirmed its June 2004 decision, despite the fact that the district attorney in the Taylor case anticipated and tried to pre-emptively overcome the Court of Appeals' concern about the deadlock provision.

The death penalty law had been enacted on March 7, 1995, under Governor George E. Pataki, who had won the governorship in 1994 with support for the death penalty as a critical plank in his platform.  Pataki was so firm in his support of capital punishment that he removed Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson from the 1996 case of a murdered police officer after Johnson refused to say he would seek the death penalty.   Johnson criticized Pataki for publicly calling for the death penalty hours after the murder, without considering the facts of the case.

Pataki's support for the death penalty had proven popular with voters because his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, strongly objected to the death penalty, promised to veto any law that was enacted, and to commute the sentence of anyone who was sentenced to death under a death penalty law enacted over his veto.  Cuomo had appointed three of the seven judges who voted in the 2004 case. The only Pataki appointee involved in the ruling was Albert M. Rosenblatt.

During Pataki's 12 years as Governor of New York, not one execution was carried out. Four defendants' death sentences were overturned with the 2004 ruling, including that of Stephen LaValle, who had been found guilty of murdering a 32-year old female teacher. He is now serving  life in prison without parole. 

Although the defect in the 1995 law could be remedied in a new law, the New York State legislature has not seriously debated a re-enactment of a death penalty law since the LaValle decision, and the issue has not been at the core of recent political campaigns.

Headline Link: 'A Victory for Common Sense'
The day after the law was overturned, The New York Times covered reactions from both sides, saying, "Mr. Pataki yesterday called the ruling disappointing, while Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican Senate majority leader, called it irresponsible, adding that it 'could ultimately jeopardize the lives of New Yorkers by placing dangerous, violent criminals back on the streets.'"  Kevin M. Doyle, the chief capital defender, "called the decision a victory for common sense."
Source: The New York Times (free registration may be required)

Background: The Lavalle & Taylor Cases;
Capital punishment under Cuomo, Pataki
The LaValle case involved a man who had been recently paroled after serving ten years in prison for assault and robbery.  LaValle had tried to assault another woman on the morning in question, and  was urinating by the side of the road an hour later.  Cynthia Quinn, a 32 year-old art teacher who was jogging, admonished him. LaValle chased her into the woods, raped her, and stabbed her to death with a screwdriver-like weapon.   The reversal of the death penalty sentence against LaValle enraged many in Quinn's hometown of Medford, Long Island.  The Court of Appeals' decision of June 24, 2004 is available through this link, in the second section.
Source: The New York Times (free registration may be required)

John B. Taylor and Craig Godineaux were found guilty of five counts of murder in the brutal May 24, 2000, massacre at a Wendy's restaurant in Flushing, Queens.  At the trial in 2003, the Queens District Attorney anticipated and tried to overcome the eventual Court of Appeals' ruling regarding the coercive effect of the deadlock provision.  However, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the provision made the sentencing portion of the law defective.  The Court of Appeals decision of October 23, 2008 is available through this link, in the first section.
Source: Queens Tribune

Pataki's two immediate predecessors as governor, Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, vetoed 18 consecutive death penalty bills that had been passed by the legislature.  Cuomo also vowed to commute the sentence of anyone sentenced to death under a law enacted over his veto.  Cuomo was morally opposed to capital punishment despite his constituents' increasing approval of the death penalty. Time reported in 1990 that Cuomo was, "almost alone as the last holdout against capital punishment," but Cuomo defended his position, saying, "'It's the ultimate political cop-out. ... It's the shepherds following the sheep, without stopping to think about what happens when the sheep get to the cliff.'"
Source: Time magazine

In March 1995, Pataki signed the New York State death penalty law into effect, using the pens of two slain officers.   Time magazine reported that Pataki said "This law alone won't stop crime, but it is an important step in the right direction."  It also quoted Cuomo as telling the Associated Press that he hopes the courts will find the law unconstitutional, saying the law is  "from fear, anger, shortsightedness and some cynicism coming together to overwhelm intelligence."
Source: Time magazine

In 1996, shortly after Pataki took office as governor, New York police officer Kevin Gillespie was shot and killed in the Bronx. District Attorney Robert Johnson, who had expressed concerns about the death penalty in the past, had refused to state whether he would pursue the death penalty in the Gillespie murder until he had sufficient time to consider the facts. Governor Pataki removed Johnson from the case and replaced him with State Atty. Gen. Dennis C. Vacco. The N.Y. State Supreme Court backed Pataki's decision, saying that the governor was merely fulfilling his "constitutional obligation to 'take care that the laws are faithfully executed.'"
Source: The New York Times (free registration may be required)

Robert Johnson is still the District Attorney in the Bronx.  He posted his views on the death penalty on his office's Web site.  In particular, he notes that the death penalty was not mandatory, but only to be pursued after careful evaluation of the case by the district attorney.  He criticized Pataki for calling for the death penalty within hours of Officer Gillespie's murder.
Source: Bronx District Attorney

Later Developments: NY death penalty not revived; Capital Defender Office closes
The law that re-enacted the death penalty in New York also established the Capital Defender Officer to ensure adequate representation of death penalty case defendants who could not afford their own representation.  The Capital Defender Office issued a report on the status of death penalty cases over the nine years the law was in effect.  District attorneys filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty in a total of 58 cases during this time, and a total of 7 defendants were sentenced to death.
Source: Capital Defender Office

In January 2005, the Gotham Gazette explained how the political climate in New York State had turned against the death penalty.  The New York State Senate has approved new versions of a death penalty law, but the State Assembly has not, and the issue has not been prominent in recent campaigns for the governor of New York or mayor of New York City.
Source: Gotham Gazette

-----article source: http://www.findingdulcinea.com
<br /><br />If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. -Thomas Paine<br /><br />My reason for supporting capital punishment: My cousin 16 yr. old Amanda Greenwell was murdered in March of 2004 at the hands of serial killer Jeremy Bryan Jones.

Granny B

I wonder!  Hmmm.  If it was put to a vote by the people of New York, how would they vote?  For or against the death penalty. 

I for one, don't believe this decision should be left up to the politicians.  It should be decided with majority vote and the policticians feet should be held to the fire to make them honor their constituent's wishes.  Just my humble opinion. :-*
" Closure? Closure is a misused word in the English language.  There is no such thing as closure for the family of a murder victim.  There will never be any closure for the death of our loved ones until we are dead ourselves.  The families have a lifetime sentence of anguish and sadness." 
Susan Levy

ScoopD (aka: Pam)

June 24, 2008, 06:05:37 PM Last Edit: June 24, 2008, 06:08:06 PM by Pamee
The people of NY would vote FOR the death penalty..   In Staten Island after the DP law was removed Ronnell Wilson was handed over to the feds and received a death sentence just last year.  He's now on death row   ;)   NYers want justice, they just gotta get the right politicians in to make it happen.

Here ya go Anti Groupie thughuggers..   ain't this one a cutie, Ronnell Wilson, he killed 2 under cover police officers.
<br /><br />If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. -Thomas Paine<br /><br />My reason for supporting capital punishment: My cousin 16 yr. old Amanda Greenwell was murdered in March of 2004 at the hands of serial killer Jeremy Bryan Jones.

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