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Amicus brief, People v. Harris, Death Penalty Act of 1995, Capital punishment, Helen Jewett, John Colt, Commander Alexander Mackenzie, Stephen Van Rennselaer, Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, Antidiscrimination Clause


Criminal Law | Legislation


Amici are teachers in New York law schools who have studied the operation of the death penalty for the purpose of teaching the subject, writing about it in scholarly journals, or representing persons accused or convicted of capital crimes. Most of us have worked in the field both as academics and as pro bono counsel for condemned inmates. Collectively, we have had first-hand experience in hundreds of death cases, in dozens of jurisdictions, extending over more than a third of a century.

Our experience has convinced us that capital punishment cannot be administered with the fairness, reliability, and freedom from discrimination that a penalty so grave and irreversible requires. This is no accident or transitory condition; it is the consequence of certain innate attributes of the penalty of death. The purpose of our brief is to analyze those attributes and explain why they are fundamentally at war with the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause and the Antidiscrimination Clause of New York’s Bill of Rights. We hope to persuade the Court that it should not temporize with the death penalty in the face of this basic incompatibility but should hold the 1995 death penalty statute altogether unconstitutional.

Publication Citation

Published in: New York University Review of Law & Social Change, vol. 27, nos. 2 & 3 (2001-2002).