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Judge declares federal death penalty unconstitutional

NEW YORK (July 1, 2002 11:56 a.m. EDT) - A judge declared the federal death penalty unconstitutional Monday, saying too many innocent people have been sentenced to death.
U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff issued a 28-page ruling reaffirming his earlier opinion that the death penalty act violated the due process rights of defendants.

The federal government was expected to appeal the ruling, which would not affect individual states' death penalty statutes.

The court found that the best available evidence indicates that, "on the one hand, innocent people are sentenced to death with materially greater frequency than was previously supposed and that, on the other hand, convincing proof of their innocence often does not emerge until long after their convictions."

Rakoff had indicated in April that he was considering declaring the federal death penalty unconstitutional and gave prosecutors one last chance to persuade him otherwise before he ruled on a pre-trial defense motion to find the statute unconstitutional.

In papers filed May 16, U.S. Attorney James B. Comey urged Rakoff to resist ruling on the issue at all until after a Sept. 2 drug conspiracy murder trial.

Prosecutors noted that the Supreme Court had already concluded that the due process safeguards of the Constitution do not guarantee perfect or infallible outcomes.

They also challenged the judge's conclusion that studies had shown numerous innocent individuals were being sentenced to death, saying the studies all involved state courts.

In 14 years that the federal death penalty has been in place, none of the 31 defendants sentenced to death have later been found to be innocent, the government said.

In the case before the judge, Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez, alleged partners in a Bronx-based heroin selling operation, are accused of hogtying, torturing and killing an informant, Edwin Santiago, on June 27, 1999.
 
 

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