Defense costs, low pay emerge as arguments against execution
Defense attorneys for an accused killer in Anne Arundel County are contending that their client should not face the death penalty because they are not being paid enough to defend a capital case. They are not alone. Lawyers in other jurisdictions have made the same arguments, sometimes successfully. “Judges are saying, ‘We’re not going to proceed until these lawyers have the funds to do these cases,’” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the anti-capital punishment Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. However, an Oregon prosecutor who often speaks about death penalty issues, Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua K. Marquis, chuckled when told about the Anne Arundel County case. “The ways in which they try to frustrate the death penalty are legion,” Marquis said. He acknowledged that Maryland’s rate for panel attorneys, $50 an hour, is “probably not enough” to try a death case, but said barring the death penalty is an unacceptable solution because attorney pay should not dictate potential sentences. “It’s a legitimate beef and an illegitimate remedy,” Marquis said.
Corrections officer stabbed
In the Anne Arundel case, Lee E. Stephens and a co-defendant, Lamarr Harris, are accused of stabbing corrections officer David W. McGuinn to death at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup in 2006. The Office of the Public Defender represents Harris. To avoid a potential conflict of interest, the office hired outside counsel for Stephens, selecting noted death penalty defense lawyers Michael E. Lawlor and Gary E. Proctor. Proctor and Lawlor have filed a motion to take the death penalty off the table because, they say, they cannot afford to defend a capital case with such meager resources. Proctor said the public defender pays outside attorneys the same no matter the type of case. While $50 is an acceptable rate for a simple burglary case, it is unworkable in a capital case that will require hundreds of hours of the lawyer’s time, he said.
The pay argument has gained traction elsewhere. In April, an appellate court in New Mexico halted two inmates’ death cases on the grounds that the defendants’ assigned lawyers were not being paid enough to render effective assistance to their clients.
Costs have been an issue in the capital case of Brian Nichols, the Baltimore native accused of killing four people during an Atlanta courthouse rampage in 2005. A judge who had been presiding over the case even halted the trial last fall when the case bankrupted the public defender’s office.
Dieter said the cost of the death penalty was an important factor in New Jersey’s decision last year to abolish capital punishment.
Since appellate courts have shown a willingness to reverse convictions in capital cases for ineffective assistance of counsel, judges are more carefully considering whether they want to deny a defendant the resources he asks for, Dieter said. He said no judge wants to be reversed, especially in a case that will cost a fortune to retry.
The $50 an hour paid by Maryland is not enough to let an attorney fully investigate, prepare and argue something as complicated as a death case, he said.
“If the state needed to get a civil attorney to do some legal work to defend itself…, it would be paying a couple hundred dollars an hour, I’m sure,” Dieter said.
The state “wouldn’t let themselves be defended by somebody for $50 an hour,” he added. “Maybe 20 years ago, that was considered sort of a base fee, but today it wouldn’t even pay the office rent.”
Ray M. Shepard, a civil litigator at Duane Morris LLP, who sometimes takes death cases for the federal public defender, said it is financially difficult to take on a capital case at government rates. He said he considers the capital cases he handles to be a form of pro bono, considering that the federal defender pays him $140 per hour, compared to his regular rate of $460.
“[T]hose cases are much more time-intensive, so you’re really asking the lawyer to take a huge chunk of their time at a greatly reduced rate,” Shepard said. “It’s definitely not for the money.”
Proctor said his research indicates that if Hackner denies the motion, Stephens can take an interlocutory appeal — that is, an appeal pursued while a case is still pending.
I know there have been numerous other threads on the death penalty and I probably should have posted this on one of those. When New Jersey recently abolished the death penalty the news was reporting that 54% of it’s citizens were in favor of the death penalty. I wasn’t one of those. It’s not that I’m some sort of bleeding heart, or that I think killing criminals is immoral. I look at the death penalty as bad idea in general. It’s a no win situation. Aside from the costs of defending a death penalty case there are the costs of numerous built in appeals all for something that doesn’t seem to deter the crimes it is intended to deter.
There are also the philosophical aspects of the death penalty. By that I mean the doctrine of reincarnation and the “Lords Forgiveness”. If reincarnation is what really happens then by executing a criminal we are recycling a bad soul before it has had chance to cleanse it’s karma. In effect we are returning the criminal to society unpunished to be a danger to all. If the Christians are correct, knowing the hour of ones death leads to true repentance. Sure some will spit in the face of God but most will beg forgiveness and be truly repentant thereby securing a place in Heaven. That hardly seems fair when their victim didn’t have the same chance and may be doomed to spend eternity in Hell. A lifelong confinement is much more likely to find a criminal dying unrepentant and thus condemned to Hell.
We all die. As Shakespeare said “To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of?” There are worse things than death. Is a quick and often painless death suffering and punishment enough for the pain these criminals have caused us? I hear said often enough “Why should he get to live, have visits from his family, when his victim has no such privileges.” Who’s to say the victim isn’t in a better place and grateful for having been sent there?
I say get rid of the death penalty and let them rot for the remainder of their days.