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The Death Penalty — How Arbitrarily Is It Imposed?

Attorneys frequently disparage the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty in capital murder cases. A group of defense attorneys analyzed over 2,000 Tennessee cases of first-degree murder and determined that the imposition of the ultimate penalty is indeed a capricious affair which is also likely unconstitutional.

Some findings include:

-- Since Tennessee reinstated the death penalty almost 40 years ago, there have been at least 2,095 first-degree murder cases tried. Of that total, 193 ended in death sentences, of which 54 percent, or 193, were later reversed.

-- Out of the 95 counties in TN, only 48 have imposed death sentences, with Shelby County accounting for 37 percent of the total.

-- Those who face charges of murdering multiple victims conversely are seven times as likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, even while the number of victims is a factor juries may consider during the sentencing phase of trials.

-- Although capital cases have dwindled across the nation over the past decade, TN has seen 14 capital cases, and of those cases, more than 71 percent were African-American defendants.

The executive director heading up the Death Penalty Information Center stated, "The arbitrary administration of the death penalty was one . . . reason why the U.S. Supreme Court declared all existing death penalty statutes unconstitutional in 1972."

Since many death penalty cases wind up overturned on appeal due to ineffective counsel, the best defense against a possible death sentence in a capital case is the same for anyone facing criminal charges — retaining a knowledgeable and competent attorney to launch a vigorous defense.

Source: Death Penalty News, "What 2,000 cases show about Tennessee's death penalty," Oct. 03, 2016