Florida Sidesteps Eighth Amendment Precedent

On August 5, 2013, the state of Florida executed John Ferguson, for murders he committed in the 1970′s. (per Andrew Cohen, “On the Death of John Ferguson”, theatlantic.com August 5, 2013). The injustice in Ferguson’s case lies in the Supreme Court’s precedent clearly prohibiting such executions involving the insane or mentally retarded. Ferguson had suffered delusions for 40 years and even considered himself to be the “Prince of God.” (per Cohen’s article). In Ford v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court dismissed a prior attempt by the state of Florida in 1986 to execute an insane man (per Cohen’s article). Further, the Supreme Court expanded on its prior decision in Ford and held in its 2007 decision of Panetti v. Quarterman that an individual sentenced to death “must have a rational understanding” of his execution (per Cohen’s article). Given his situation, it is a mere impossibility that Ferguson could have met this standard. The real question why did the state of Florida and the Supreme Court refuse to intervene and blatantly disregard prior precedent? Such inaction resulted in a grave injustice. Although Ferguson deserved to be held fully accountable for his crimes and severely punished, he did not deserve to be executed.

The effect of Sequestration on the Federal Public Defender System

Sequestration is to have a devastating effect on the federal public defender system. The federal public defender system is to face a ten percent reduction (per The Baltimore Sunarticle August 1, 2013). At the same time, the Department of Justice and the prosecution’s budget remains the same (per The Baltimore Sun). Do you see the glaring inequity in the system? Federal public defenders are already overworked and overloaded with cases, yet the new budget cut only serves to make their job even more difficult while giving the prosecution a decisive advantage. The American justice system has always been based on an adversarial system. The new cuts to the federal public defender system strip the system of its very foundation and demonstrates that the American justice system is far closer to a dream than a reality.

Proscutorial Misconduct Demands Accountability

John Thompson was wrongly convicted twice for a carjacking and a murder in Louisiana (per Radley Balko’s huffingtonpost.com article August 1, 2013). He spent eighteen years of his life in prison and on fourteen years on death row (per huffingtonpost.com article). Exonerating evidence was found only weeks before Thompson was to be executed (per huffingtonpost.com article). Thompson expresses anger that not a single prosecutor was held accountable for his unfortunate situation (per huffingtonpost.com article). Thompson called the justice system a system “void of integrity” and stated “Mistakes can happen. But if you don’t do anything to stop them from happening again, you can’t keep calling them mistakes.” (per huffingtonpost.com article). Thompson’s situation illustrates that prosecutors are often given a pass for their conduct and need to be held more accountable to truly make the system effective.

Prosecutors, unlike defense attorneys or public defenders, often are not held fully responsible for their actions. The conduct and performance of defense counsel is subjected to a high level of scrutiny given the high stakes on the line for a criminal defendant. However, this same standard does not apply to the prosecution as often as it should. Such a discrepancy allows overzealous prosecutors, as in the Thompson case, virtually unfettered discretion knowing that they can get away with misconduct. This situation is extremely problematic and prosecutors need to be held fully accountable for their actions to avoid unfortunate situations such as what happened to John Thompson. Thompson said it best, “Mistakes can happen. But if you don’t do anything to stop them from happening again, you can’t keep calling them mistakes.”