The Devil In the Details of the Death Penalty

The death penalty is a complicated thing.

Today, members of the Appellate Team at the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public and a group of visiting attorneys from across the country argued one of its finer points before the Tennessee Supreme Court. The main issue: the way in which Tennessee courts consider how the death penalty is imposed in similar cases. This so called “comparative proportionality” review is required by state law and is just another layer in the death penalty process that is intended to ensure fair and equal application of the ultimate penalty.

However, as the lawyers for Corinio Pruitt argued today, the comparative proportionality review has been complicated by inconsistent reporting and is in desperate need of an update. Mr. Pruitt’s case is especially unique in that he was convicted of Felony Murder; the jury did not convict him of intentionally killing the victim, yet he was sentenced to death. Consequently, it is especially difficult to compare his sentencing to others under the current process.

Attorneys from the Shelby County Public Defender's Office, Jones Day and Sidley Austin hold a final Moot Court in preparation for oral argument in State v. Pruitt
Attorneys from the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, Jones Day and Sidley Austin hold a final Moot Court in preparation for oral argument in State v. Pruitt

Tennessee is one of 32 states that still have the death penalty. Maryland became the most recent state to abolish capital punishment when its legislature voted to do so last week. Tennessee has 81 people on Death Row. 32 of them are from Memphis. Depending on the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case, Corinio Pruitt and the others may have the opportunity to have their death sentences reviewed to include a comparison more in keeping with state law.

We are proud of our Appellate Team’s tireless challenges to the death penalty process in Tennessee. They are constantly fighting for a more just application of the law with the hope that Tennessee will ultimately end this ugly chapter in its history. Likewise, we are thankful to the attorneys of Sidley Austin, LLP and Jones Day, who have submitted briefs and traveled far to prepare and argue in the Pruitt case.

All of these attorneys are helping make Memphis and Tennessee more just!