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Broden addresses state death penalty laws

Steve Kerins | Thursday, November 30, 2006

Indiana compares well to other states in its application of the death penalty, but legislators, judges and lawyers must remain diligent said Indiana State Senator Joe Broden Wednesday.

Broden, who represents the cities of South Bend and Mishawaka in the State Senate, spoke at the fifth of a series of six lectures in the Notre Dame Against State Killing (NDASK) Fall Lecture Series.

Broden, a 1987 graduate of Notre Dame, offered insight from his experience in the legislature as well as from his membership in the Indiana Assessment Team of the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project.

Broden said the Moratorium Implementation Project began in 2001 following an ABA resolution calling for a review of capital punishment in policy and practice in each of the 38 states with a death penalty. Indiana’s report is expected to be finalized early next year.

“The American Bar Association recognized … that there are different methods of imposing the death penalty,” he said.

These methods can vary between urban and rural areas and are also dependent on the quality of a defendant’s legal representation.

His team’s preliminary findings were promising when compared with some of Indiana’s neighbors, but there remains room for improvement, Broden said.

“Indiana is usually a state where, frankly, we’re oftentimes compared with states that don’t fare particularly well on [issues such as] education and infant mortality,” Broden said. “[But on the issue of] the death penalty, I think that Indiana might stack up quite favorably.”

Broden cited several state laws that put Indiana ahead of the national curve, including one that requires that a person charged with a capital crime to be represented by two attorneys – with at least one who previously participated in a death penalty case.

Also, the Indiana Supreme Court cannot refuse to hear an appeal in a capital case, and a defendant has the right to a hearing to determine whether any new evidence warrants a second trial.

Indiana’s legislature passed a law prohibiting the execution of individuals with demonstrable mental impairment in 1994 – eight years before an equivalent ruling by the United States Supreme Court.

Despite recent progress locally, Broden said public awareness of high-profile wrongful conviction statistics has prompted the controversy surrounding the death penalty to reemerge.

“One hundred persons in some twenty-three states have gotten off death row … because they had been exonerated,” he said. “I think Americans take deep offense to [the legal system’s failure].”

Although Broden said any proposal for a moratorium on the death penalty would be likely to fail in Indiana, he laid out some practical objectives he believes the State Senate might address.

“There’s a real stirring to at least have our system be as fair as possible,” he said. “I think we continue to make progress on a lot of the due process issues surrounding the death penalty, [for which there is] good bipartisan support.”

Broden also pointed to the success of laws in Illinois and Minnesota that require all confessions to be recorded on video, and he highlighted the importance of “putting our money where our mouth is [and ensuring] competent counsel” for those accused of capital crimes.

Wednesday’s lecture was sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns and Campus Ministry, and co-sponsored by Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. The final lecture in NDASK’s Fall Lecture Series will feature Dale Recinella, the Catholic Lay Chaplain for Florida’s death row, at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium.