N.C. high court rules with state on death penalty
10.07.11 - 08:48 pmBY TOM BREEN
RALEIGH — A North Carolina Supreme Court ruling on Friday that affirms how the state approved new lethal injection procedures is unlikely to change the current de facto moratorium on capital punishment here, a lawyer in the case said.
"There are a lot of other lethal injection lawsuits that are outstanding right now," said David Weiss of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. "We're in a position right now where we're not even thinking about resuming executions because we've got so many issues to deal with."
Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said lawyers there are still reviewing the court's decision, but that even with Friday's ruling there are still legal challenges involving the death penalty both in Wake County and federal court.
The case before the justices was a largely technical matter concerning the 2007 approval by the Council of State of new lethal injection guidelines developed by the Department of Correction. Lawyers for five death row inmates argued that the council failed to follow requirements for approving new agency policies as set forth by a state law called the Administrative Procedures Act.
But the Supreme Court unanimously decided that because the correction department is explicitly exempt from the ADA, the council wasn't under any obligation to follow the law's procedures for new policies in this case.
The Council of State consists of North Carolina's 10 holders of statewide elected office.
A series of legal challenges, new legislation and law enforcement controversies have effectively held up executions in North Carolina since Aug. 18, 2006, when Samuel R. Flippen was put to death for the murder of his 2-year-old stepdaughter.
An audit last year found serious problems with work done by the state blood analysis crime lab, and the Racial Justice Act has allowed death row inmates to appeal their sentences by citing statistical evidence to argue that race may have distorted the process.
For those reasons, Weiss believes the court's ruling, while a setback to death penalty opponents, is unlikely to mean executions will swiftly resume.
"There's no reason to think about the resumption of executions right now," he said.
I find it appalling that the state's highest Court would make the ruling that it did, although nothing surprises me anymore.
It is also appalling that the Council of State makes such decisions in the first place. After all, these are not criminal justice experts nor do they know anything about the death penalty. They are simple the heads of state agencies dealing with issues like transportation and education.
The death penalty in North Carolina is undeniably broken and also not fixable. We can keep playing these games with it or we can finally do what is right and come up with a different solution that protect society from murderers and provides justice for society and crime victims.
In case you think we need the death penalty for the above goals, consider the reality that murder is down in North Carolina even after we've stopped killing murderers.