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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 76689 Find in a Library
Title: Death Row Right To Die - Suicide or Intimate Decision?
Journal: Southern California Law Review  Volume:54  Issue:3  Dated:(March 1981)  Pages:575-631
Author(s): K L Johnson
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 57
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This note highlights existing law concerning death requests by condemned prisoners and argues that both next friend petitions and automatic appellate procedures that cannot be waived may interfere with the prisoner's right to privacy.
Abstract: A pressing question facing several jurisdictions throughout the United States is what should be done with the condemned prisoner who asserts a right to die with dignity by accepting the death sentence without appeal. The arguments asserted by opponents of a right to die for death row inmates may be divided into two different categories: abolitionist concerns and State interests. Abolitionists, or opponents of the death penalty, condemn the execution of another human being under any circumstances. The second category of arguments involves the judicial system and its interest in protecting the individual. The State demands that executions take place only in extreme cases and wishes to save the condemned prisoner from an irrational desire to forego appellate review. Most statutes that enforce the death penalty have enacted automatic appeals statutes. In Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the Supreme Court approved Georgia's automatic appeals statute as an adequate safeguard against arbitrary and indiscriminate enforcement of the death penalty. Current law also provides that the next friend of a death row inmate may attempt to petition for a writ of habeas corpus and stay of execution. Most next friend petitions in capital cases are filed by a relative of the death row inmate, usually the mother, as in Gilmore v. Utah (1976). The Supreme Court has recognized the right of a mentally competent capital defendant to waive discretionary review of his or her death sentence subsequent to the automatic appeals stage. However, the Court has not yet expressed an opinion about the waiver of automatic appeals. Proponents of capital punishment contend that although its deterrent value may be questionable, certain crimes are so abhorrent to civilized society that death is the only adequate punishment. Death row inmates emphasize the desire to avoid further dishonor for the family, unwillingness to exist in prison, and inherent uncertainty of death row confinement as reasons for favoring execution. It is suggested that automatic appellate procedures currently enforced in capital cases may sometimes violate the inmate's right to first amendment free exercise of religion and always violate the prisoner's constitutional right to privacy. Automatic appeals statutes should be amended to allow waiver, and next friend petitions should not be permitted unless the defendant is mentally incompetent or otherwise unable to act on his or her own behalf. The article includes 342 footnotes.
Index Term(s): Capital punishment; Constitutional Rights/Civil Liberties; Cruel and unusual punishment; Death row inmates; Prisoner's rights
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