News Releases
January 07, 2014

Boston Bar Association Opposes Death Penalty in Federal Cases

Press Release

Boston Bar Association (BBA) President Paul T. Dacier today announced that for the first time in its 250 year history, the BBA has taken a stand against the death penalty in federal cases. This represents an extension of the BBA’s long-standing opposition to capital punishment in Massachusetts state cases.

“Without equivocation, the death penalty has no place in the fair administration of justice, and makes no sense on a practical level,” said Dacier. “Regardless of how heinous the crime, we stand strong against the death penalty in federal and state cases.”

The position announced today is premised on a study by the BBA’s Death Penalty Working Group, and makes three key points:

– The inevitability of error in criminal cases makes it overwhelmingly likely that reliance on the death penalty will lead to the execution of innocent defendants;

– In practice, the death penalty has a disproportionate impact on members of racial and ethnic minorities;

– Pursuit of the death penalty is almost always an empty and inordinately expensive gesture, inconsistent with the sensible allocation of resources in a criminal justice system already laboring under great financial strain.

Retired Superior Court Judge Margaret R. Hinkle, a Co-Chair of the BBA Death Penalty Working Group, put the findings in context: “It is of the utmost importance that we understand capital punishment’s systemic flaws — even when the facts known about particular cases do not appear to raise questions about innocence or racial discrimination, or when a crime in the public spotlight is so outrageous that focus on issues like cost or delay may seem out of place given the suffering of victims and their families.”

Martin F. Murphy, a Partner at Foley Hoag, and also Co-Chair of the BBA’s Death Penalty Working Group, said: “The research we conducted confirms that death penalty prosecutions — including federal death penalty cases — are more expensive and time consuming, more subject to prolonged delays, and unlikely to produce a different result than cases where the prosecution seeks life without parole.”

Murphy added that “a single study of a recent federal death penalty case in Philadelphia concluded that the case carried a price tag of more than $10 million.”

When Dacier appointed Judge Hinkle and Martin Murphy to co-chair the six person working group last fall, he charged them with reviewing the BBA’s 40 year old position against capital punishment, considering whether the BBA should speak out about the federal death penalty, and developing a written report for consideration by the BBA’s policy-setting body, its Council.

The BBA thanks the members of its Death Penalty Working Group:

Honorable Margaret Hinkle, Superior Court Judge (ret) (Co-Chair)
Martin F. Murphy, Foley Hoag, LLP (Co-Chair)
Georgia Critsley, General Counsel, MA Department of Criminal Justice Information Services
Honorable Wendie Gershengorn, Superior Court Judge (ret)
Emily F. Hodge, Choate Hall & Stewart, LLP
David Solet, General Counsel, Middlesex District Attorney’s Office
Kathy Weinman, Collora LLP