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NYCLU Hails Decision Vacating Death Sentence

The New York Civil Liberties Union hailed today’s decision from the New York Court of Appeals vacating the death sentence of the second person sentenced to death under New York’s new death-penalty law. The NYCLU had filed a friend-of-the-court brief calling for reversal of the death sentence and has been involved in several earlier successful challenges to the state’s death penalty law, which was enacted in 1995.

In today’s ruling the Court of Appeals held that Syracuse-area resident James F. Cahill’s death sentence could not stand because a juror biased in favor of the death penalty was allowed to serve on the jury, because a prospective juror was removed for expressing reservations about the death penalty, and because the state had failed to prove that the murder qualified as a capital murder under the statute.

No member of the court supported the state’s death penalty statute. And for the first time, a member of the court – Judge Smith – raised serious questions about the constitutionality of the statute in light of this country’s long history of racial discrimination in capital-punishment schemes. Judge Smith also expressed serious concerns about the arbitrariness in the New York state law in light of the fact that District Attorneys are given complete discretion to decide whether to seek the death penalty in any particular case.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “We are pleased that the court once again has rejected an effort to execute a New Yorker. The death penalty has no place in our state.”

NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said, “It is notable that not a single judge has expressed support for the state’s death-penalty statute. Moreover, for the first time a judge has raising troubling questions about discriminatory and arbitrary application of the death penalty in New York.”

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