The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan spoke out against a newly proposed constitutional amendment to reinstate the death penalty in Michigan debated today in a House of Representatives hearing.

“The recent death of two Detroit police officers was indeed tragic and the ACLU mourns their deaths along with all Michigan citizens,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “But at a time when other states are placing a moratorium on capital punishment, Michigan should not consider the death penalty to be the answer.”

Michigan was the first state in the union to ban the death penalty when it eliminated capital punishment in 1846 after an innocent man had been hanged. The ban became part of Michigan’s Constitution in 1963.  Michigan currently has “life without parole” eliminating the fear that someone convicted of murder could be released.

In 1976, the Supreme Court found capital punishment to be constitutional with the qualification that it be fairly and consistently administered.  “More than 27 years later, it is clear that this goal has not been achieved,” added Moss. 

Since most defendants cannot afford a lawyer, they must rely on the state to provide them with representation. Few states provide adequate funds to compensate lawyers for their work or to investigate cases properly.  As a result, capital defendants are frequently represented by inexperienced, often over-worked, and in many cases incompetent, lawyers.

As of December 2003, 113 inmates have been found innocent and released from death row. More than half of these people have been released in the last 10 years. For every eight people executed, one has been exonerated.  The vast majority of those exonerated were found innocent because someone came forward to confess committing the crime; key witness testimony was found to be illegitimate; or new evidence was found to support innocence.

HJR W, introduced by Representative Larry Julian (R)-Lennon, requires passage by 2/3 of the members of both the House and Senate to be placed on the ballot for a vote by Michigan citizens.

View HJR W at: