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NYCLU Hails Death-Penalty Decision

The New York Civil Liberties Union hailed today’s decision by which the New York Court of Appeals vacated the death sentence imposed on Darrel Harris, who was the first person to be sentenced to death under the death-penalty statute enacted in New York in 1995. The NYCLU submitted a friend of the court brief in the case calling upon the Court of Appeals to bar the execution of Mr. Harris.

The Court of Appeals vacated Mr. Harris’s death sentence on the grounds that Mr. Harris was tried at a time when the death-penalty statute still contained plea-bargaining provisions that later were held to be unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals in Hynes v. Tomei. The NYCLU also had filed a brief in that case asking the court to invalidate those provisions.

In today’s decision, the Court of Appeals declined to address the issue whether the death penalty on its face is unconstitutional in New York State. The Court, however, will be forced to address that issue in future cases.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman hailed today’s decision: “In rejecting a death sentence for Darrel Harris, the Court of Appeals has made it clear that it will closely examine any death sentence imposed in New York State. This is the first step in what will be a long fight against the death penalty in New York.”

NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, who authored the NYCLU briefs submitted in Hynes and Harris, added, “We believe that New York’s death-penalty law is wrong and unconstitutional. We will continue to challenge it, and we are encouraged by today’s decision.”

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