“Ohio still uses the death penalty but there is some hope to change that, according to an American Bar Association report released Sept. 24. The report said Ohio should temporarily halt executions and allow for a review of its system. It was issued following a 30-month review of the current system which it said had inadequate procedures to protect the innocent, inadequate qualification standards for defense counsel, racial disparities in Ohio’s capital sentencing and death sentences imposed and carried out on people with severe mental disability.””
Ohio still uses the death penalty but there is some hope to change that, according to an American Bar Association report released Sept. 24.
The report said Ohio should temporarily halt executions and allow for a review of its system. It was issued following a 30-month review of the current system which it said had inadequate procedures to protect the innocent, inadequate qualification standards for defense counsel, racial disparities in Ohio’s capital sentencing and death sentences imposed and carried out on people with severe mental disability.
University of Akron law professor Margery Koosed was involved in creating the report.
The ABA throughout its history has worked to assure that the American people have a fair and accurate criminal justice system, and an effective civil justice system as well, Koosed said. As for the criminal justice system, they’ve really focused on due process and assuring that it delivers justice to society and to those who are accused.
As a part of that responsibility, the ABA has consistently over the years developed standards addressing each component of the criminal justice system and all of the lawyers under it.
Koosed is very familiar with Ohio’s criminal law system. She started getting involved in similar work more than 33 years ago with her first job teaching for the university.
I actually came to the law school in the clinical program, she said.
For two years Koosed said she administered legal clinics which handled criminal appeals and post-conviction before she moved to full time teaching.
In addition to Koosed, the panel included nine other members on the Ohio Death Penalty Assessment team. Koosed said the team was made of federal and state court judges, federal and state legislators, three law professors and two people in private practice.
I think we should take to heart what the ABA study has shown and, in fact, we should temporarily halt executions, which is what the ABA team concluded.
The panel unanimously concluded that Ohio should halt executions pending a complete review of its system.
There were, however, two people who abstained from the decision. One was a sitting judge and could not take a position, and the other was the dean of the Cleveland State Law School, said Koosed.
She said he never identified his reason for abstaining.
We’re hoping that the study is carefully evaluated and that it will lead to some further study by the state, she said. It appears that Gov. Strickland and the (Ohio) attorney general Mark Dann are evaluating the report.
Koosed explained why it was important for Strickland to look at the report.
Technically speaking, the prosecutor requests the death warrant but the governor ultimately decides, with the assistance of others in the executive branch, whether a particular execution goes forward, she said. The governor and the Ohio supreme court are the bodies that decided whether executions go forward.
According to Koosed, the ABA takes no position on the death penalty. However, its report requires a state to reach benchmarks put into place prior to the study.
Basically we set up benchmarks and standards so that one could assess individual jurisdictions’ ability to provide a fair and accurate system, Koosed said. There are 93 of the protocols that were developed in the ABA committee looking at systemic questions around the country.
Those protocols include collection, preservation and testing of DNA and other types of evidence; law enforcement identifications and interrogations; crime laboratories and medical examiner offices; prosecutorial professionalism; defense services; the direct appeal process; state post-conviction proceedings; clemency; jury instructions; judicial independence; racial and ethnic minorities; mental retardation and mental illness.
Each section was evaluated on a scale of five ratings: in compliance, partially in compliance, not in compliance, insufficient information to determine statewide compliance and not applicable.
We found that they (Ohio) fully complied in the state with only four of the protocols, Koosed said. We partially met just 37 and we totally failed to comply altogether with 28, and there were others we just couldn’t resolve or really assess.
According to Koosed, about 23 of the protocols could not be evaluated due to insufficient data in the study.
Basically, we’re four for 93, she said.
Koosed said that she does not personally support capital punishment.
I’ve been training lawyers and judges and prosecutors on occasion, with how these cases need to be conducted, so I’ve really been focusing, and of course been teaching classes, surrounding this area and writing a lot in this area. I haven’t felt the need to go to the moral/ethical kinds of problems or questions about it.
I also tend to conclude, in looking at it from a criminal justice standpoint, that we’re not getting any real benefit for the efforts that are put into capital sentencing systems: we’d be better served to be putting this into an alternative to executions.
They are costly, they are mistake-prone, as is clear, and we aren’t in a position to do as much with protecting society as we could if we weren’t mired in this process.
Koosed also said victims of capital crimes were often against executions because it did not help.
It didn’t help them in terms of the waiting, the deferring, or the ability to grapple with this, that nothing was going to bring back their loved ones and others have talked about not wanting to kill someone else, and create another set of victims, the family members of that person, to honor their child or spouse or their parent, Koosed said.
I guess looking at it as I have from the criminal justice perspective, I don’t see that this is a necessary form of punishment and I don’t see that it is a particularly beneficial or helpful means of punishment, she said. Given the problems that we obviously have and sadly may continue to have, this is not a process that citizens of Ohio should rely on to deliver justice.
Koosed said she also took part in a similar investigation into Ohio’s death penalty system in 1997. She co-chaired the committee put together by the Criminal Justice Committee. It was created in response to a previous national ABA investigation on the death penalty system.
Over the years, Koosed has also assisted in various professional organizations with amicus briefs. She has only been involved with the two Bar Association studies.
According to the ABA report, between 1981 and 2005 there were a total of 2,768 capital indictments from 83 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Of these, 60 percent of capital indictments came from three of Ohio’s major metropolitan areas. Slightly more than 1,000, or 37 percent, came from the Cleveland area of Cuyahoga County. Almost 500 indictments – 17 percent – are from the Columbus area of Franklin County, and 154 or five percent, are from the Cincinnati area of Hamilton County.
Ohio’s death penalty has been abolished and reappointed in multiple incidents. The Ohio General Assembly, according to the ABA report, passed the most recent death penalty statute in 1981.