Recommended: New State’s Attorney in Florida wants to start CIU

Florida prosecutors have played a major role in creating an unjust criminal justice system with their ability to decide who to prosecute and what charges to file.

Several prosecutors in the state had a history of extreme overzealousness and seemed to forget the community they were elected to represent. They charged children as young as twelve as adults, sentencing them to long prison terms. They helped fill Florida’s death row with people with severe mental impairments and mental illness. And they supported a system that has allowed people of color to be treated more harshly than white people.

Newly-elected prosecutor Melissa Nelson seems to have a different plan coming into office. Nelson represents the 5th district, which includes 5 counties in the Northeast area of the state. According to a recent interview with Reason magazine, she is looking at new ways of encouraging prosecutors to seek justice, rather than just convictions. And she’s even exploring the idea of creating a Conviction Integrity Unit.

Read the full interview in Reason here.

Year-end report of 2016 shows continued decline

DPIC 2016 reportThe death penalty continued its historic decline in 2016, according to the year-end report put out by the Death Penalty Information Center. The report found:

  • The number of death sentenced imposed by American juries was lower than in any other year since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1972. The 30 death sentences from 2016 represent a 39% decline from 2015’s already 40-year low of 49.
  • Executions declined by more than 25% from 2015, and, together, Georgia and Texas executed 80% of the 20 men executed in 2016.
  • Public opinion polls in 2016 reported historic lows in support for the death penalty.
  • State Courts in Delaware and Florida ruled that the death penalty laws in their states are unconstitutional.
  • Prosecutors in four of the 16 counties that impose the most death sentences in the U.S. were defeated by candidates who expressed personal opposition to the death penalty or pledged to reform their county’s death penalty practices.

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Black lawmakers call for repeal of death penalty

NBCSL ConferenceAfrican American State Legislators Cite Disproportionate Sentencing

The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) has passed its first-ever resolution supporting repeal of the death penalty in the United States. The historic vote took place during the NBCSL 40th Annual Legislative Conference in New Orleans, LA. It is an escalation of the organization’s previous call for a moratorium in 2002.

“As a Nebraska state senator, I proudly voted to strike the death penalty from our state statutes in 2015. I was just as proud to sponsor the recent NBCSL resolution that calls for an end to the death penalty across the country,” said Nebraska State Senator Tanya Cook. “This sentence is not a deterrent to violent crime. Period. That fact has been scientifically-demonstrated over and over again in this country and around the globe.”

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EJUSA helps lead Cities for Life event in St Augustine, FL

Cities For Life candle lightingCommunity members joined murder victims’ family members, religious leaders, families of of death row inmates, and a death row exoneree for a “Cities For Life” event in St. Augustine last week, hosted by EJUSA and the Diocese of St. Augustine. EJUSA’s National Organizer Christine Henderson emceed the evening, which featured the lighting of 386 candles, one for every person awaiting execution on Florida’s death row.

Cities for Life began 15 years ago by the Italy-based Sant’ Egidio Community. More than 2,000 cities worldwide have participated, declaring themselves “Cities for Life” and committing to ending the death penalty throughout the world. It is the largest international mobilization effort to end the death penalty.

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Share a vision for justice that heals

Last week, voters in three states chose to keep the death penalty, even in the face of progress on other criminal justice reforms. Though these losses pale in comparison to the longstanding and continuing momentum away from the death penalty in the U.S., they reveal just how much our nation struggles with how to respond to violence.

EJUSA’s Executive Director Shari Silberstein presents a path forward with a vision for justice in a column, “What the death penalty taught me about trauma, healing and justice,” published on Virgin.com.

“EJUSA’s campaign to end the death penalty has given us a unique experience changing the narrative around how we respond to the most extreme acts of violence. We’ve learned that the justice system will fail everyone unless it serves everyone.”

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last night

Last night was emotional and surprising.

Many in America are mourning today; some are deeply afraid for their lives or their loved ones. Others are feeling heard in their suffering for the first time.

Finding common ground across those kinds of differences isn’t easy, but it has fundamentally transformed me personally, and EJUSA’s work, over the last decade. On our largest and oldest campaign, this bridge-building approach has put the end of the death penalty within our sights.

Still, last night, voters in Nebraska, California, and Oklahoma all passed referenda in favor of the death penalty. Those losses hit us hard. Those states have chosen a failed, broken policy when they had the chance to move towards a new dawn.

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Florida death penalty ruled unconstitutional…again

Florida faith leaders against the death penaltyLast month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that death row inmate Timothy Hurst is entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the jury in his case was not unanimous in recommending a death sentence. The Court held that both the Florida and U.S. Constitutions require a unanimous jury recommendation of death to be able to sentence someone to death.

This decision leaves Florida without a valid death penalty statute. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s death penalty statute in January 2016, the Florida Legislature passed a new statute requiring a 10-2 jury recommendation of death to impose a death sentence. Florida’s current statute fails to meet the constitutional requirement of jury unanimity outlined by the Florida Supreme Court in Hurst.

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Recommended this week

“Recommended this week” features highlights from the past week in news about the death penalty, crime survivors, and trauma-informed responses to crime.

Better by halfThe Marshall Project
An interesting story from The Marshall Project about New York City: “New York City’s example shows that when the community and government work together, it is possible to have both half as much incarceration and twice as much safety.”

Killing Dylann Roof Wouldn’t Help Racial InjusticeTime
Next week, jury selection begins in Dylann Roof’s federal trial. Executing Roof will not rid us of the racism that fueled him and will not make the death penalty less racially biased.

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Voters in three states face death penalty questions at the ballot box

Infographic: how to vote on death penalty ballot measuresA Pew poll released last month found support for the death penalty dropped by seven points just in the last year and is at its lowest point since 1972. Executions have reached their lowest level in 25 years, with even Texas seeing record lows. Only a few counties continue to sentence people to death with any regularity.

And now, voters in three states will determine the future of the death penalty when they go to the polls next week. Here is a rundown of the ballot measures and how you (and/or your friends) should vote to continue the momentum toward ending the death penalty throughout the country.

Share this graphic from our partners at the DeathPenaltyFail campaign to help spread the word about how to vote in these three states.

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Recommended this week

“Recommended this week” features highlights from the past week in news about the death penalty, crime survivors, and trauma-informed responses to crime.

Three States to Watch if You Care About the Death PenaltyThe Marshall Project
Voters in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and California will face death penalty questions at the polls. The Marshall Project looks at what’s on the ballot in each of the states and what is at stake.

Baltimore Is Attacking the Roots of Violence with Public Health Measures—and Saving LivesScientific America
Violence is contagious and can spread from person to person, just like a disease. The Baltimore City Health Department is bringing down violence in some of Baltimore’s highest violence neighborhoods using a public health approach.

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