Public Defenders Fight the Death Penalty

Today, defenders and advocates across the country shine a light on death row for National Public Defense Week.

Public Defenders are the voice of people on death row and are best positioned to remind the system of the humanity of those on death row. Public approval of the death penalty is at its lowest level in decades. There have been more than 150 people freed from death row. We may have already executed many innocent people. In Tennessee, 40% of those on death row are from Shelby County. Each day, our capital defense team fights the system to keep the State of Tennessee from executing more Memphians.
 
Death sentences are linked to mental health. One Oregon study found 2/3 of death row inmates had mental impairments. Prosecutorial misconduct is rampant in capital cases. One Arizona study alleged it in over 1/2 of capital cases.
 
Today, defenders and reform advocates across the country in partnership with National Association for Public Defense will bring attention to the work of public defense in death penalty cases. Follow these hashtags on Twitter #DefendGideon #TippingtheScales #CelebratePublicDefense.
 
All week, we’ll be working with our partners to bring attention to vital issues affecting our lawyers and staff and their clients. March 13-18th marks Public Defense Weeks and culminates on Saturday, the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright (1963), the landmark Supreme Court decision that established public defense systems across the country.
 
All year, we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. Memphis is home to the 3rd oldest public defense system. Watch this video to hear the amazing story of why public defense in Shelby County predates the Gideon decision by more than four decades. 
SPACE SAVER 
DEATH PENALTY RESOURCES
 
Recent articles about the death penalty in Tennessee:
 
 
A few national stories on the death penalty:
 2016 marked another record decline in death penalty use | Death Penalty Information Center  

Read with Us in the JustCity Book Club

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Bryan Stevenson, Author

“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation.”

— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

We have long admired the work of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. So when we read his new book, ‘Just Mercy,’ we did not expect to be even more moved by the difficult path he has chosen: challenging the death penalty, prison sentences for children and the incarceration of those with mental illness.

We also did not think we could be more outraged by the brokenness of the criminal justice system, until reading Stevenson’s moving account of the men, women and children he has stood beside during his decades-long struggle for justice.

But most importantly, we did not expect to feel such hope — to see that with great personal sacrifice and perseverance, one person can and has changed the system.

That’s why we invite you to read ‘Just Mercy’ with us and then have a discussion about the important work being done by Bryan Stevenson at Equal Justice Initiative, public defenders in Memphis and advocates around the country. Pick up a copy at Burke’s Book Store or at The Booksellers at Laurelwood and sign up at the link below to have your book club considered.

We’ll choose one book club each month. An attorney from the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender will join your club to answer questions about the criminal justice system that Stevenson explores in Just Mercy and discuss what we can all do to make Memphis a more just community.

 

Just Mercy Cover

 

Sign Up for the JustCity Book Club Here!

New Video Challenges Myths in the Face of Tennessee’s Unprecedented Death Penalty Push

Screenshot 2014-06-24 11.56.35The State of Tennessee has been making national headlines for its aggressive and unprecedented efforts to carry out the death penalty.  In December, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office requested dates for ten executions. The first is set for October and would mark only the seventh person executed by the state since 1960.

Then last month, Governor Haslam signed into a law a measure that would make the electric chair mandatory, if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. There are only eight other states that authorize use of the electric chair by request of the person facing the death penalty.  This new law makes Tennessee the only state that mandates use of the electric chair without the consent of the person facing execution.

These new developments run counter to national thinking on the death penalty — public support has dropped significantly in the last two decades. In 1996, 78% of Americans supported the death penalty. In 2013, the number had dropped to 55%.  In recent years, 18 states have eliminated the death penalty and in three more states, governors have placed moratoriums on its use.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that for the first time, a majority of Americans support life sentences instead of the death penalty for people convicted of murder.

The organization, Tennesseans Against the Death Penalty, has produced a new short film to advocate for alternatives to execution and to disprove the most popular myths surrounding the death penalty.

 

The next meeting for the Memphis chapter of Tennesseans Against the Death Penalty is scheduled for July 7th, 2014 at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.