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United States v. Quinones (Challenging constitutionality of the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994)


At issue in this case is whether the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Defendants Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to the underlying charges in a narcotics/murder case. Trial for those charges was scheduled to begin on Sept. 2, 2002, and the federal government was requesting the death penalty upon conviction. The defendants filed a motion to strike the death penalty notices on the ground that the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 is unconstitutional. In April 2002, the District Court held that the federal death-penalty statute was unconstitutional in light of the risk of executing innocent persons. The federal government appealed to the Second Circuit.

The NYCLU filed a brief supporting the District Court’s decision and arguing that the documented risk of execution of the innocent presented substantial due process concerns. On Dec. 10, 2002 the Second Circuit issued a decision reversing the decision of the District Court. The Second Circuit rejected the argument that the death penalty violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because execution extinguished a defendant’s opportunity to exonerate himself. The court did not address in any meaningful way the impact of recent exonerations on the death penalty.

The Second Circuit denied the defendants’ petition for rehearing on Jan. 16, 2003, and denied a petition for rehearing en banc on May 29, 2003. The defendants filed a motion for a stay of the mandate pending filing a writ of certiorari, but this motion, too, was denied on June 24, 2003. The certiorari petition was denied on Dec. 1, 2003. 

U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Cir., Index No. 02-1403 (L), 02-1405(con)(amicus) 

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