American Law Institute Abandons Death Penalty Work

By Kamika Dunlap on January 04, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The American Law Institute is walking away from its decades of death penalty work that has helped to shape and synthesize our modern capital justice system.

According to the New York Times, the American Law institute is made up of about 4,000 judges, lawyers and law professors and is responsible for creating the framework for the modern capital justice system almost 50 years ago. The group has decided to abandon the field, citing frustration and that the justice system in the United States is irretrievably broken.

The termination of the institute's death penalty work comes on the heels of significant progress made last year.

For example, as previously discussed, the number of death sentences declined last year and eleven states are considering abolishing executions.

Also, as previously discussed, Ohio became the first state to adopt a new single drug lethal injection protocol. Ken Biros, a convicted murder was first person in the U.S. to die by lethal injection with a single shot drug rather than a three-drug method.

A study commissioned by the institute said decades of experience proved capital punishment is plagued by racial disparities; is enormously expensive; and is undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections.

In addition, many institute members condemn the death penalty outright which represents a significant shift in legal theory and the organization's intellectual underpinnings.

The framework the institute developed in 1962 was an effort to make the death penalty less arbitrary. It was a move to practice sensitivity to individual circumstances or "guided discretion." But that is a phrase that often is at war with itself.

Many say the institute's move also represents a turning point and highlights the moral and practical struggles continuing to plague the capital justice system.

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