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tered, we have to have 100-percent certainty that it is done correctly.
I think the Innocence Protection Act, which Mr. Delahunt and I and others—now we have 203 cosponsors in the House, which is far in excess of what we had a year ago, and I think it shows, again, leadership on the part of many organizations.
I have sort of taken the lead from my own Governor, Governor George Ryan, whom you know and is a good friend of yours. I know you
have had many discussions with him and he has been to Washington and testified before the House Judiciary Committee subcommittee a year ago. I have taken my lead from him because he did place a moratorium on the death penalty because he wanted to be sure there was certainty when the death penalty is administered.
So I think our bill is a good bill. It requires and calls for DNA testing, it requires competent counsel. I think it is a well-worded bill. I have talked to Chairman Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, about this issue, and I believe he has a great deal of interest in it.
So again, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here ahead of everyone else, and thank you again for your leadership. We look forward to working with you and hopefully passing this bill and having it signed into law.
Chairman LEAHY. Well, after all the enormous amount of work you and Congressman Delahunt have done over there in obtaining over 200 co-sponsors, we should move along with it. I hope to sit down with Chairman Sensenbrenner after the 4th of July break and, among other things, talk about that with him. I also want to see how our committees can work well together.
So thank you very much. Give my best to the Governor. He has not wavered on this issue at all, and I appreciate that.
Representative LAHOOD. Thank you. .
Chairman LEAHY. Congressman Delahunt. I should note for the record that the Congressman and I helped keep New England safe for years in our roles as prosecutors, he in Massachusetts, I in Vermont.
STATEMENT OF HON. WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, A REPRESENTA
TIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS
Mr. DELAHUNT. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would just associate myself with the kudos that were put forth about you from my friend and colleague, Ray LaHood. I would also add that it warms the cockles of my heart to address you as “Mr. Chairman.”
In any event, thank you for inviting us to come here and to testify on behalf of 200 of our House colleagues who have cosponsored the Innocence Protection Act. We introduced this Act because the reality is our Nation's system for trying capital cases is failing, and this has been demonstrated by a series of studies such as the one conducted last year by researchers at Columbia University.
I want to acknowledge the Ranking Member.
The study at Columbia examined over 4,000 capital cases in 28 States over a 23-year period, and the study concluded that 7 out of every 10 death penalty cases contained serious reversible error7 out of 10. A failure of that magnitude calls into question the fairness and integrity of the American justice system itself.
Some suggest that the high rate of reversals showed that the system is working. Let me suggest that is absurd. We cannot know whether the appeals process is catching all the errors or not, but what we do know definitively is that errors are not being caught at trial. We do know that innocent people are serving lengthy sentences for crimes that they did not commit.
What is heartening and encouraging is that the public understands this. Polls reveal growing misgivings about the administration of the death penalty and overwhelming support for reforms that would provide some degree of reassurance that it is being properly and fairly implemented.
Now, the catalyst for this sea change can be summed up in one word, or actually three words—DNA. Science has given us a new forensic tool which can conclusively establish guilt or innocence, and this tool has been used to exonerate nearly 100 people who spent years on death row for crimes they did not commit, some of whom came within days of being put to death. Fortunately, their lives were spared, but the system failed them, and it failed society as well by leaving the real perpetrators out walking the streets.
DNA is the spotlight that has enabled us to focus on this problem with our criminal justice system, and our bill would help ensure that defendants have access to testing in every appropriate case. But we should be under no illusion that by granting access to DNA testing we are solving the problem. DNA is not a panacea for the frailties of the justice system. To suggest otherwise would be tantamount to fraud, particularly when, in the vast majority of cases, biological evidence that can be tested does not even exist.
What DNA has revealed is that the lack of adequate legal services is the crux of the problem. The adversary process is the heart and soul of our system of justice, a chance to put evidence on trial and confront the witnesses in open court.
As you indicated, I was a prosecutor for over 20 years, and I know that the process, the system can work only when lawyers on both sides are up to the job. Those kinds of lawyers aren't as easy to find as some may think. We have a lot of lawyers in this country, but very few of them are engaged in trial practice, and fewer still have ever tried a criminal case from beginning to end. And it is a tiny percentage of that percentage who are equipped to shoulder the immense responsibility of trying a case in which a human being is on trial for his or her life.
These are complex matters which cannot be handled by lawyers who lack the training, experience and resources to prepare a proper defense, let alone by lawyers who are incompetent, unprepared, or impaired by substance abuse. We cannot tolerate a system that relies on reporters and journalism students to develop new evidence that was never presented at trial, a system in which luck or chance plays such a profound role in determining whether a defendant lives or dies.
The Innocence Protection Act encourages States to develop minimum standards for capital representation, as some States have already done, and it would provide the States with resources to ensure that indigent defendants have access to a lawyer who can meet those standards.
If we are successful, the impact of these measures will be felt far beyond simply death penalty cases. By raising standards, we can help restore public confidence not just in the fairness and reliability of capital trials, but in the integrity of the American justice system itself.
The American people have a right to expect that the truth will be relentlessly pursued, that every needed resource and every possible safeguard will be brought to bear. Yet, if that does not happen in death penalty cases, how can they have confidence that the justice system is any less fraught with error in non-capital cases? Without that confidence and respect, our system of justice, so essential in a democracy, is at grave risk.
I thank the Chair.
Chairman LEAHY. Well, I thank both you and Congressman LaHood.
I would note for the record that the good-looking group of people who have joined us here are all relatives of Senator Hatch. You might not have known that if I hadn't pointed it out, because they are all better looking than he is.
Senator HATCH. That is not saying much.
Senator HATCH. Well, thank you. I am very happy to have them here to listen to the three of you. I am also very interested in what you have to say.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Congressman Delahunt and Congressman LaHood, I understand you do have a vote. If you wanted to leave at any point, just feel free to do so.
Representative LAHOOD. Thank you.
Chairman LEAHY. Senator Collins, I appreciate your courtesy in letting our two colleagues from the other body go forward at this point.
I thank you both. We obviously will be talking about this a lot more during the summer. Thank you both.
Senator Collins, we appreciate you being here. As I have noted before, we have withheld the opening statements myself and by Senator Hatch to allow the witnesses to testify. Senator Collins, as will the rest of us, will also have a vote very shortly.
STATEMENT OF HON. SUSAN COLLINS, A U.S. SENATOR FROM
THE STATE OF MAINE Senator COLLINS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, Senator Hatch, members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify before you this morning.
I feel compelled to say a few words to Senator Hatch's relatives to tell you what an outstanding Senator he is. He has been such a help to me as a first-term Senator, and I take great pleasure in working very closely with him.
Senator HATCH. You can see why I love this woman, that's all I can say.
Senator COLLINS. Mr. Chairman, I also want to commend the efforts of our two House leaders on this important issue. It is extraordinary that they have been able to sign up more than 200 cosponsors, and I believe that bodes well for enactment of this important legislation.
To appreciate the importance of the issue of procedural safeguards in death penalty cases, consider what price our society would be willing to pay to prevent the execution of just one innocent individual. The price, of course, cannot be measured, and yet the threat of such a wrongful execution is all too real.
Since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976, 720 people have been executed nationwide, including 37 this year alone. In this same time period, nearly 100 individuals who were sentenced to die had their convictions overturned and were released from death row. Each of these individuals has lived the Kafkaesque nightmare of condemnation and imprisonment for crimes that they did not commit. 3,700 prisoners now sit on death row. It is impossible to know for certain how many of them are innocent of the crimes for which they have been sentenced to die. But if history is any guide, some of them undoubtedly are innocent.
My home State of Maine ushered in the first era of death penalty reform in 1835 with what came to be known as the Maine Law. The Maine Law held that all felons sentenced to death had to remain in prison at hard labor and could not be executed until 1 year had elapsed, and then only on the Governor's order. No Governor ordered an execution under Maine law for 27 years, and Maine finally abolished the death penalty in 1887 after a botched hanging.
But Maine is one of only 12 States to abolish the death penalty, and so under the great majority of State court systems and under the Federal system, executions can and do occur. It is our responsibility to make sure that this frightening power to take another's life is wielded judiciously, with the greatest care.
I am proud to join many in this room in cosponsoring the Innocence Protection Act, and I commend the chairman, Senator Gordon Smith and Senator Feingold for their tireless efforts to see this bill through to passage. I believe that over time, as more and more capital convictions are overturned, more and more Americans will come to embrace the principles of this important bill.
Take Title II of the bill, for example, which is designed to ensure competent legal counsel in death penalty cases. Instead of attempting to impose Federal requirements created out of whole cloth, the bill establishes a commission of prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges tasked with developing standards for providing adequate legal representation for those facing the death sentence. It then provides grants to help States implement the commission's standards, as well as disincentives for States that choose to ignore them.
I also strongly support the DNA testing provisions of this bill. Convicted offenders ought to have access to DNA testing in cases where it has the potential to help prove an inmate's innocence. The Innocence Protection Act sets procedures governing DNA testing in the Federal courts and encourages States to adopt their own procedures to ensure that testing is available and that biological material is preserved. In recognition that the States are higher in death penalty cases, our bill would prohibit States from denying applications for DNA testing by death row inmates if the testing could produce new exculpatory evidence.
Mr. Chairman and Senator Hatch, thank you again for inviting me to testify today on an issue of such profound significance. I am hopeful that this Congress we will reach across the aisle to enact meaningful safeguards to protect the innocent from paying the ultimate price and society from making the ultimate mistake. This is an issue that should unite all of us, whether we are opponents or proponents of the death penalty. Surely, we can come together to ensure that important procedural safeguards and protections are provided in these cases.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Hatch, members of the committee.
Chairman LEAHY. Well, thank you, Senator Collins. I appreciate your support of this.
I will also place in the record a statement by Senator Gordon Smith, who is a proponent of the death penalty but a cosponsor of this legislation. That will be part of the record.
I appreciate you being here.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. PATRICK J. LEAHY, A U.S.
SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF VERMONT Chairman LEAHY. I know that we will having a vote soon. I am going to give my opening statement and then yield to the distinguished senior Senator from Utah for his.
Obviously, we are pleased to have all of you who have taken the time to come here. Certainly Senator Collins' testimony and Senator Smith's testimony is very welcome, as were the statements of the lead House cosponsors, Congressmen Bill Delahunt and Ray LaHood. We have already heard their testimony, one a proponent of the death penalty, one an opponent of the death penalty, and one a former prosecutor. They make it very clear that they are united on the question of competent counsel in capital cases and, of course, on the availability of whatever evidence may be there.
We now have 200-or-so cosponsors in the House and 19 in the Senate, including three members of this committee Senators Feingold, Kennedy and Cantwell. I am grateful to each of them for their help, and also for the interest that Senator Hatch and Senator Feinstein have shown on this issue.
I am really very pleased because we have had liberals, conservatives, supporters of the death penalty, opponents of the death penalty, Republicans and Democrats, on this. That is the way it should be. This should not be a partisan issue. It is an issue of conscience, but also an issue of confidence in our criminal justice system. A criminal justice system only works if people have confidence in it,