The Death Penalty Under Fire

John Ashcroft's aggressive pursuit of the death penalty may be backfiring. A U.S. district judge in Vermont last week ruled the federal death penalty unconstitutional, arguing that the law violates defendants' due-process rights because it allows looser procedures and standards of evidence in sentencing than are allowed at trial. The ruling in U.S. v. Fell followed a similar one by a New York judge in July. The irony is that in both cases the Attorney General ordered the local federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty even though they wanted to ask for lesser sentences. Since taking office, Ashcroft has reversed...

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