Life-And-Death Cases: Luck Of The Draw In 6th Circuit


A federal death-penalty appeal can be a game of chance in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, says the Cincinnati Enquirer. If the judges assigned to a case were appointed by Democratic presidents, odds are they will overturn a death sentence because of new evidence or mistakes made during the trial. If the judges were appointed by Republicans, the chances are slim.

An Enquirer analysis of death-penalty decisions since 2000 shows that 6th Circuit judges consistently voted along partisan lines. Judges appointed by Republicans voted to deny inmate appeals 85 percent of the time. Judges appointed by Democrats voted to grant at least some portion of those appeals 75 percent of the time. Life-and-death decisions hinge on the luck of the draw: A panel with a liberal majority gives the inmate a far greater chance of avoiding execution than one with a conservative majority. “It’s a roll of the dice,” said Nathaniel Jones, a retired 6th Circuit judge appointed by President Carter. “When I look at a lineup of a panel in this kind of case, you can almost go to the bank on what the result is going to be.” Death-penalty opponents say it an example of the arbitrary application of capital punishment. Supporters say it shows how a handful of judges can toss out reasonable sentences and jury verdicts.


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