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A case for moratorium in Alabama

University of Notre Dame Term paper by phadp student representative, Hannah Jackson

Hannah Jackson
IIPS 50801.01
Dr. Cortright

Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty: A case for moratorium in Alabama 

The anti-death penalty movement in the United States began to gain momentum and force on both state and national levels after 1976 in response to the Supreme Court ruling in Gregg v. Georgia at which time executions were resumed and considered constitutional. While the struggle to shut down the use of the death penalty as capital punishment in the United States continues today, the mediating step in proceeding towards abolishment includes examining the legitimacy and fair use of the death penalty through the enactment of a moratorium. Due to the split intentions of various states on whether to employ the death penalty or not, many campaigns work at the state level. The strategy behind advocating for the imposition of a moratorium on the death penalty as a step towards abolishing capital punishment is a nation-wide approach employed in state centered organizations such as Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty (PHADP). Looking at the moratorium proceedings gained by a top anti-death penalty non-profit in the state of Alabama as a case study can lend insight into the movement as a whole. The case for or against the death penalty will not be argued, only providing an analysis of the successes and shortcoming of the moratorium campaign by Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty to gauge the progress of this movement in the current stage of history. With both successes and shortcomings in the past twenty years, Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty has had an unquestionable effect on the moratorium movement, most significantly through its international network exposure and wide audience focus, targeting the opponent of the state of Alabama through many mediums including but not limited to the standard legislative channels. 

The movement to achieve a moratorium on the death penalty across the United States stems from a stagnant controversy over the fate of capital punishment as a feature of the United States' judicial system. The foundation for moratoria, includes a halt on executions for a specific condition of time of three years to impartially investigate a concern over the fairness of the application of capital punishment (Alabama Moratorium: phadp.org). While the movement to fully abolish the death penalty has succeeded in many states, compromising first with a moratorium in the remaining states is seen as a mediation tool and necessary step in the final goal of abolishment in states that both regularly push to execute death penalty convictions and have a citizen majority supporting the practice such as Alabama or Texas. Because the utilization of the death penalty is unregulated on a national level, the implementation of a moratorium must be pursued at the state level in states that employ capital punishment such as Alabama rather than focusing on a national campaign. Pressuring legislative change at the state level is crucial as state mandated executions account for almost all cases since 1976. Furthermore, there are over 36 states that employ the death penalty at the discretion of state courts instead of by command of the national law (Zimmerman, 3-4). The existence of nationally focused anti-death penalty organizations are most successful in acting as a resource and networking base for state focused organizations. Most notably, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) is arguably the most affluent national organization serving to network and aid more than one-hundred state and national affiliates. Its services include providing affiliates with training, strategic guidance, and assistance in creating specifics for public policy campaigns including media support and extended networking opportunities to "end, limit or repeal the death penalty, state by state." (Who we are: ncadp.org) The importance of networking between anti-death penalty affiliates as well as with other organizations promoting issues such as grassroots social change, racial inequality, or human rights protection, is showcased in PHADP's widespread connections and influence as a educative resource world wide. 

By analyzing the mechanisms of change employed by Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty in campaign strategy, the leading progression of relative success towards a moratorium are measurable in terms of overall effectiveness and potential. However, a challenge specific to the anti-death penalty movement is the considerable inability to gauge how long the movement will take to reach a final solution, the movement unwilling to cease until full abolishment of capital punishment in the United States is achieved. Searching for an agreement to a moratorium in Alabama is necessary to the enlightenment of injustices of the legal system effectively resulting in the wrongful deaths of innocent or mentally unfit persons through situations of where jury override was used in twenty four percent of cases, an ineffective public defender system leaves many without reasonable representation, racial inequality and evidence of extensive poverty become elements of capital punishment distribution, and a high percentage of denied prisoner appeals and unuse of DNA testing before execution (Alabama Moratorium: phadp.org) The plethora of ciritical problems indicated need exposure by an authoritative source (extended through a moratorium) to raise questions by general public as well as those with legislative authority over the judiciary practices in the United States. Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty has sucessfully recognized the power of testimony of these systemic problems, much effort organized to increase awareness and legislative consideration. 

Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty's progress in Alabama proceeding towards achieving a moratorium has stemmed from the cultivation of various audiences in different spheres of power including state legislative channels, civil society, and international human rights actors. A widespread international network base and media campaign launched Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty into a stage of interaction with many different levels of society and government, effectively extending awareness and support. In existence for just over twenty years, PHADP began as an inmate founded and run organization with a mission to, " educate the public and to bring about the abolition of the death penalty in Alabama" (On Wings of Hope, 4) with the help of outside supporters along with producing a bifurcated newsletter four times every year. PHADP began working on the moratorium initiative in 2001 with 850 Alabama entities now signed on including city councils, county commissions, civil society groups, and churches (Alabama Moratorium: phadp.org). The organization continues to be run by an inmate board and executive committee including the only outmate, Esther Brown as the executive director. A board of advisors is also structured in the organization, including death row exonerees, attorneys, clergy members, and community supporters. The media and education communications, publicity events, and organization are all structured by Esther Brown, the executive director.
The measureable success of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty can be seen in the number of signed entities supporting the moratorium initiative, international exposure as a information source, and the testimonial participation in the House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the Moratorium Bill presented by Representative Merika Coleman. By far the biggest legislative step, on April 7, 2010, the Alabama House Judiciary Subcommittee recommended that a House Joint Resolution should be offered for the creation of a investigation committee for possible use in determining whether the application of the death penalty is made in the fairness and impartiality, with use of due process in order to decrease the risk of innocent deaths by execution (Brown, Interview). Because the achieved recommendation was made at the end of the legislative term in 2010, focus next year will begin with the immediate attempt to bring the recommendation to the judiciary committee for a vote.

As a organization devoted to public education awareness, a large step forwards includes becoming a recognizable citable source on capital punishment in Alabama. PHADP has gained media exposure in print in editorial premises in Alabama local media but also through international impartial news publications such as EL PAIS in Spain and a United Nations Press Release. Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty's recognition and influence has extended internationally, producing contacts in England, Germany, France, Spain. The full extent of PHADP's media exposure has been based around the executive director Esther Brown's speaking engagements including two appearances on Alabama public television show, For the Record, highlighted in a french documentary about activism called Daddy, Daddy USA by Pierre Hodgson, interviewed and written Op-Ed articles for a variety of newspapers in Alabama, and spoken on radio talk show programs as a death penalty expert. An important success Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty had was its interview with United Nations special rapporteur Dr. Philip Alston, leading to the inclusion of Alabama in Dr. Alston's press statement on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions for the UN Human Rights Council in June, 2008. The United Nations special report included recommendations by Dr. Alston to question the death penalty systems of both Alabama and Texas based on the increasing number of death row exonerees nationwide. Identifying three immediate concerns, Alston cited problems of judicial independence and the lack of an adequate right for counsel, promoted systematic questioning of the current criminal justice system in search of reforms, and stated the problem between state and federal jurisdiction that limits federal courts from being able to reivew capital cases for claims of injustice (Alston, Press Release). Alston blatantly recommended that due process in death penalty cases must be reviewed. The release of special rapporteur Alston's findings created documented support and exposure of justification for PHADP's proposed moratorium initiative in an international arena of human rights concern. The report also effectively linked Alabama's system of capital punishment to other critical issues of United States interest such as questioned US military operations respect for human rights and rule of law in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Afghanistan and Iraq, in the worldwide perspective of United Nations member states.

The most pressing question becomes, where should Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty next focus its influence? The most pressing engagement is following up on the legislative opportunity presented by the achieved recommendation made by the House Judicial Subcommittee for a House Joint Resolution. While concessions were made by PHADP to rephrase the study from a moratorium (demanding a halt of executions for three years during the study) to a study during which time the capital punishment system would maintain purpose and full service, the gains made by this study far outweigh the concession (Brown, Interview). The potential for renewed debate and impartial investigation would be monumental to the anti-death penalty movement, creating space for higher government or civil society review. It is imperative to thus attempt to bring this recommendation to judiciary committee for a vote with the opening of the new legislative session. This would maximize on the momentum created with the recommendation as advised by Alabama Arise, a coalition working with Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty that promotes fairer state policies (Brown, Interview). With an increasing amount of light on the pitfalls and imbalance of the capital punishment system in terms of systemic failure in the realm of human rights, Alabama would be increasingly left open to criticism and possible pressure from outside sources. One potential pressure lies in foreign relations with countries in the European Union, with whom Alabama seeks substantial foreign investment from. As of 2007, Germany was Alabama's largest export market recipient (Alston, Press Release). Using the extensive network of local and international supporters, Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty has the potential to encourage economic pressure on the state of Alabama, which surely would warrant concern and possible comment on issues such as due process in its death penalty arrangement. As Dr. Alston stated, "Alabama's systematic rejection of concerns that basic international standards are being violated sits oddly alongside the Government's determined and successful bid to attract foreign investment from the European Union in particular." (Alston, Press Release) Thus, the next level of exposure must include pressure on a state level in addition to levying the support international interest by way of media communication abroad.    
Not to forget the work of inmate members of PHADP at Holman Correctional Facility who continue to stay the center of operations of the organization, further extension of their publication, On Wings of Hope is of continued importance to the movement. The uniqueness of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty stems from the inmates' cultivation and participation in the struggle against the death penalty in Alabama. The involvement of death row inmates, victims' families, civil society groups, law enforcement, and youth keep the ear of a variety of diverse sets of audiences within reach. The promotion of the organization's newsletter as well as outreach materials created by the inmate staff at Holman, including Creepin Death's Youth Outreach Program pamphlet, are effective in maintaining support of the organization. Further circulation of the Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty's publications nationwide would be an asset to the anti-death penalty movement both for PHADP but also as an example to other campaigns around the country.

While the battle for achieving a moratorium on the death penalty in Alabama and ultimately abolishing the institution of the death penalty as part of the Alabama judicial system continues on, it must be noted that similar struggles parallel PHADP's fight in other states like Texas which holds the highest number of prisoners on death row and highest number of performed executions in the United States. While hard to imagine at the current stage of struggle within each individual state, how are campaigners to know when the right time is to solidify efforts into a larger national campaign? The push to implement a moratorium in Alabama on the grounds of questioning the fairness of the application of the death penalty in such cases of mental retardation, racial discrimination, and the legality of lethal injection are a solid base from which suggestions for future campaign focus can be based on a national level. In addition, the question of whether the death penalty is constitutional under scrutiny of the eight amendment of the United States Constitution continues to invoke tremendous controversy (Goldberg and Dershowitz, 1775). One argument points to the hidden reality of the death penalty's functions that allows traditional moral standards to not condemn the death penalty upon sight as cruel and unusual punishment (Goldberg and Dershowitz, 1783). Another argument points to the cruel and unusual punishment clause as well, commenting that "The eighth amendment commands that the standards of dignity and fairness which protect citizens generally must also apply in some form to those convicted of crimes. So understood, the cruel and unusual punishment clause is a crucial part of the constitutional scheme." (Goldberg and Dershowitz, 1785) Both these arguments point to the debate over the questioned constitutionality of the death penalty. On a national front, pressuring the government to examine the definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" in relation to the death penalty is another level of struggle that should be thrust into the limelight of public scrutiny.

In conclusion, the impressive progress made by Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty in face of its obstacles of the legislative process, uninformed and unsure state citizens, and government officials looking for personal gain in reelection public support is an impressive example for any anti-death penalty campaign on the state level. In order to see possibilities of a strong national focused campaign against capital punishment, the programs and education awareness strategy of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty would have to be monumentally restructured to include a larger outmate campaign base. It is through international network exposure and wide audience focus, targeting the opponent of the state of Alabama through many mediums including but not limited to the standard legislative channels, that Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty has seen tremendous success. Quoting Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty's executive director Esther Brown, "I have always felt that the only reason the death penalty will be abolished is not because we care too much about possibly executing the innocent or for other humanitarian reasons but because of the high cost." (Brown, Interview) The key to furthering the anti-death penalty movement in Alabama and in theory overall in the United States is finding the high cost for exploitation to effectively end the unjust system of capital punishment in the United States.

Dr. Philip Alston. UN Special Rapporteur Calls on the U.S. to Take Steps to Avoid Unlawful Killings. 30 June 2008. United Nations. Print Press Release.

Brown, Esther. Personal Interview. 12 April 2010.
Charbonneau, Louis. "Alabama executions "highly problematic: U.N. envoy." Reuters 30 June 2008, Online. 
Goldberg, Arthur J, and Alan M Dershowitz. "Declaring the Death Penalty Unconstitutional." Harvard Law Review 83.8 (1970): 1773-1819. Web. 1 Apr 2010.
Langley, Scott. "Who we are." The National Coalitition to Abolish the Death Penalty. NCADP, 2010. Web. 6 April 2010. <http://www.ncadp.org/index.cfm?content=2>.
Nice, David C. "The States and the Death Penalty" The Western Political Quarterly 45.4 (1992): 1037-1048. Web. 3 April 2010.
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, . "Contact Information." On Wings of Hope Jan 2009, Vol 13, Issue 1. Print. 
PHADP, . "Alabama Moratorium." Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty: Prisoners, Advocates, and Supporters working to abolish state killings in Alabama. Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, 2010. Web. 13 Apr 2010. <http://virgilturtle.com/phadp/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13&Itemid=28>.
Zimmerman, Paul. "State Executions, Deterence, and the Incidence of Murder". Journal of Economic Literature. (2002): 1-22.