According to a report released this week at the Capitol, Missouri has too many reasons for which prosecutors can seek the death penalty. The study also suggested that Missouri needs to do a better job of preserving forensic evidence such as DNA samples.
The report came after a two-year study sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA). It was conducted by a panel of Missouri law professors, private sector attorneys and federal judges. The panel was charged with assessing the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty system in Missouri. The panel did not take a position on whether the death penalty was an appropriate punishment to use.
In evaluating Missouri’s capital punishment system, the panel did recognize some strengths including that the state’s crime labs met national accreditation standards, that the state has a public defender system to represent indigent defendants facing capital trials or appeals and that the state has a law banning the death penalty for offenders with mental retardation.
However the panel also recommended areas for reform. The report showed that Missouri has 17 “aggravating circumstances” by which prosecutors can argue to jurors that a murder suspect should be sentenced to death. The report says that the circumstances “are so broadly drafted as to qualify virtually any intentional homicide as a death penalty case.” Other areas for reform include protecting people with severe mental illness from the death penalty and developing standard law enforcement procedures for eyewitness identification and interrogation procedures. For the complete report by the ABA panel, click here.
The panel thinks that many of their recommendations could be enacted by the General Assembly. Several of the suggested reforms are included in legislation pending this session. The Catholic Church has long opposed the death penalty because of its disregard for the sanctity and dignity of human life and its continuation of the cycle of violence.
Read more about the report from the Associated Press.