Reforms needed for death penalty but not judicial elections, Ky. Chief Justice says

06/12/2012 11:05 AM

The Kentucky Supreme Court is looking at rules it can change or impose to improve the accuracy and fairness of the use of the death penalty in Kentucky, Chief Justice John Minton said.

“We’re going to take a serious look at that,” he said. (1:10) The American Bar Association issued a nearly 500-page report in December outlining dozens of recommendations of ways to fix the system.

Minton said in an interview with Pure Politics recorded last month that he thought the rules already required the Kentucky justice system to keep evidence in a capital case as long as the inmate is incarcerated.

But the American Bar Association report found that evidence isn’t required to be kept for the full time an inmate is behind bars. The report went on to say lost evidence negates a separate state law that allows for re-testing DNA evidence before a death row inmate is executed.

The report also found that of the last 78 people sentenced to death in Kentucky, a higher court overturned the death sentence in 50 of them. The panel made a host of recommendations, including creating statewide standard for defense lawyers in death penalty cases, creating laws to preserve evidence and passing a law to prevent the mentally ill from being sentenced to death.

Minton said as chief justice it’s not his place to say whether the death penalty should be continued or not because he was elected to uphold the existing laws.

“I don’t think that’s my role,” Minton said of weighing in on capital punishment. (3:30)

This year, one Kentucky Supreme Court seat — the 7th District in Eastern Kentucky — is up for election. That is a rematch of the 2004 race between Justice Will T. Scott and Appeals Court Judge Janet Stumbo.

“The public, I think, has great confidence in a judiciary when they feel there is some level of accountability in their hands,” Minton said (4:35).

Minton said he prefers and expects judicial elections to continue into the future, as opposed appointing judges. He said that remains the case even as judicial elections in other states become increasingly expensive and divisive and, in some cases, involve outside super PACs getting involved.

“It’s concerning. I’ve read the (John) Grisham novels too. Kentucky has so far been fortunate in our judicial campaigns that we have not had the runaway costs that our states surrounding us have,” Minton said.

In the interview recorded last month, Minton said some Kentucky judges were participating in a conference in Nashville to study judicial elections.


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