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Judge Rules Federal Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Aired July 1, 2002 - 12:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Just moments ago, word came down that a U.S. district court judge has declared the federal death penalty unconstitutional. The judge's 28 page ruling says the death penalty violates due process rights. The judge also raises concerns about the number of innocent people who have been executed. The federal government is expected to appeal.

On the phone now, our CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin to tell us what the heck this all means. Jeffrey.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Hi, Kyra.

TOOBIN: Well just to illustrate, a little bit, the limits of what Judge Rakoff did today. The vast, vast majority of people on death row in this country, of the 3700 people, are on state death rows, and this ruling has nothing to do with state death rows. It only has do with the federal death penalty, under which Timothy McVeigh was recently executed. There, he said the chance that innocent people may be executed is too high. So the whole death penalty is unconstitutional. It's a very unusual basis on which to hold a statute unconstitutional. It will surely be challenged on appeal, but it does illustrate that there's a lot of ferment. There's a lot of change going on with death penalty laws as supreme court illustrated last week.

PHILLIPS: No doubt. Where do you think prosecutors, sort of, lacked in strength when it came to trying convince this judge otherwise, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: Well, he's known as a fairly liberal judge, here, in New York. He's not a -- he is a former prosecutor, but he's, certainly, one who's very much concerned with the rights of defendants. I think what has really happened is the existence of DNA evidence in recent years and its conclusive proof that certain people on death row are, in fact, innocent has, really, given a lot of people pause, has create the a new level of uncertainty about criminal convictions that is filtering through the legal system. It does not mean that the death penalty is going away in the country. The death penalty is clearly constitutional. The Supreme Court has not suggested it's going to do away with it all, but the rules are changing, and it is getting harder.

PHILLIPS: All right. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Thanks for sorting it all out for us. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com





 
 
 
 


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