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Judge Fletcher, Like His Mother, Gives NYU Death Penalty Lecture

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 25, 2013 4:04 PM

Judge William Fletcher followed in the footsteps of his honorable mother once again. He delivered the James Madison Lecture at New York University School of Law, speaking out against the death penalty, nine years after his mother, the late Judge Betty Binns Fletcher spoke about the death penalty in her own Madison Lecture.

Both Judge Fletchers served on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, with the liberal Judge Betty Fletcher taking senior status as part of a 1998 deal with Republican senators, in exchange for a confirmation of her son to the bench. Despite taking senior status, she continued to have an active caseload until her passing in 2012, hearing more than 400 cases in the year before her death, reports The New York Times.

Fletcher Calls the System 'Broken'

Judge William Fletcher, a Rhodes Scholar, former Supreme Court clerk, and Boalt Hall professor, delivered the 2013 Madison Lecture, "Our Broken Death Penalty," earlier this week. This wasn't his first speech highlighting issues with our capital punishment system, but it certainly seemed more explicitly critical than his speech at the University of Southern California three years ago.

In that speech, he traced the history of the ultimate punishment, and highlighted the system's many problems, stating, "I intend to explain where have we been, where we are now, and where we go from here."

This week's speech was not nearly as tame. Not only did the title of the talk illustrate his stance, but his opening statement noted that the title "suggests that it might have been unbroken. I think it's always been broken."

The speech began with a recap of the history of the death penalty, and of the significant Supreme Court cases. He also noted that Japan, China, and the United States are the lone remaining industrialized nations with capital punishment.

He then set his focus on the system's numerous problems, including the cost (which trumps life imprisonment), questionable deterrent effect, snail-like pace, the numerous instances of police, prosecutorial, or judicial misconduct in capital cases, disproportionate effect on minorities, and, of course, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's severe clampdown on habeas corpus remedies.

Earlier this year, Judge Fletcher dissented in Ninth Circuit case that upheld the death penalty in a case where the presiding judge was alleged to have been suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's.

He ended both speeches with on the same note, lamenting the public's lack of knowledge of the facts of the death penalty stating, "Perhaps we as a country will have eventually seen enough."

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