Massachusetts can create a capital punishment system “as infallible as humanly possible” by narrowly de?ning the eligible crimes and requiring the use of DNA or other scienti?c evidence, says a report being issued today by a panel appointed by Gov. Mitt Romney. The Boston Globe reports that the panel says Massachusetts use capital punishment for the “worst of the worst” crimes. The system would require jurors to have “no doubt” of guilt – a higher hurdle than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard – to sentence a defendant to death. It would establish a series of reviews by experts and courts to protect the innocent from execution.
Romney wants to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts, which abolished capital punishment in 1984 and has not executed anyone since 1947. It is one of a dozen states without the death penalty. The governor wants to sway a reluctant Legislature by arguing that if DNA can be used to prove the innocence of death row inmates, he argues, it can also be used to prevent wrongful convictions.
Frederick Bieber, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who cochaired the commission, said the report has the potential “to in?uence things far beyond the borders of Massachusetts…we believe to a man, or woman, that the chance of an erroneous conviction and execution would be vanishingly small.”
The safeguards envisioned in the report are not sufficient to satisfy many death-penalty critics. It “doesn’t hit at enough of the real problems in the system that causes false convictions,” said Harvey Silverglate, a Boston criminal defense and civil liberties attorney who says he opposes the death penalty because of the possibility of wrongful convictions, rather than on ethical grounds. “It hits at some of them, but not enough of them and surely not all of them.” Some observers believe the proposal is drawn so narrowly it will almost never result in a capital conviction.