Category: Death Penalty

In the News: PLAP Students Fight Injustice of Capital Punishment

The Harvard Gazette featured three PLAPers—Milo Inglehart, Megan Barnes, and Jake Meiseles—in an article about Harvard Law School’s capital punishment clinic. Meiseles, Barnes, and Inglehart took Professor Carol Steiker’s Capital Punishment Clinic as 2Ls during their January term.  In the article, they describe the problematic and horrific use of the death penalty in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Read the full article in the Harvard Gazette.

In the article, Meiseles explained, “Many of the men sentenced to death ended up there due to prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate lawyers, and terrible racial undercurrents in the criminal justice system, and some are innocent. It’s a terrible injustice that we as a society should not be tolerating.”

The criminal legal system affects a huge number of those in the U.S., and especially people of color. PLAPers are committed to fighting for justice at all stages of the legal system. PLAPers are not only involved in representing clients before the Massachusetts Parole Board and the Department of Corrections, but many of them also work to reform and combat many the system as a whole. For instance, PLAPers often take coursework about criminal law, as well as clinical courses where they practice under the supervision of an attorney. These include the Capital Punishment Clinic, taught by Professor Steiker, the Criminal Justice Institute, led by Professor Dehlia Umunna, and the Crimmigration Clinic, lead by Professor Phil Torrey.

For Inglehart, Barnes, and Meiseles, death penalty work demonstrated one of the ways our criminal legal system is fundamentally broken and unjust. Barnes believes that heightened awareness will lead to change. “If more people would educate themselves about what’s truly happening in capital punishment in America, how fundamentally unfair and unjust is, it would be abolished tomorrow,” she insisted, “if people understood that death row prisoners are not monsters, and that quite often they’re poor and lack adequate lawyers, there’d be calls for massive reforms.”

The time Inglehart, Meiseles, and Barnes spent working on capital punishment allowed them to see up close the outrageous nature of the system. Inglehart stated, “The main takeaways for me are first the overwhelming injustice of how the death penalty is meted out, and the importance of working to remedy that.”

These experiences strengthen the skills and dedication of student attorneys in their representation of clients. Much of PLAP’s work involves high stakes issues. For instance, PLAPers represent those with life sentences before the Massachusetts Parole Board. If successful, an incarcerated person with a life sentence will be able to leave prison. Additionally, PLAPers represent clients in disciplinary hearings before the Department of Corrections. In many of these hearings, their clients face tough sanctions, such as solitary confinement, a tool used regularly in the Massachusetts prison system.

PLAP is proud of its members for their work and dedication to their clients and especially proud of the work they do throughout the criminal legal system.

Why Isn’t Prison Justice on the Ballot This Tuesday?

Help Lady Liberty Out and Read the Full Article Here.


It seems as if criminal justice reform has been a mainstream topic since the 1970’s, but continuously we see prison reforms being halted or ignored by congress. The “tough on crime” approach was of major attention when New York City promised to harshly tackle the issue, but now that talk of reforming has taken place, the actual chance to take action on it seems to be absent from campaigns and ballots. Why? Well, most people pay attention to the problem of crime and then demand change, not the problems affecting criminals. However, as the article points out, America wears a scarlet letter of mass incarceration, which is an embarrassment for our country. And with so many people being affected by prison sentences, more people should be demanding change for the current system. Just because the crimes are happening behind prison walls doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye. In fact, the author suggests, by reforming the criminal justice system, we will see a positive change in other areas, most notably, the economic inequality gap.


Troy Davis’ legacy

Please take a moment to read this excellent piece on the legal background of the Troy Davis case.

How we remember Troy Davis

This piece from today in the New Republic situates the Troy Davis execution in the context of the recent history of the movement to end the death penalty. Professors Carol and Jordan Steiker offer a useful overview of this recent history as the reasoning behind their own (cautiously) optimistic position. Along the way, they helpfully outline the major moving pieces of legal and legislative strategy in this struggle.

The piece is prompted by the Troy Davis execution, and accordingly, highlights two potential ways that highly publicized “particular executions” can make an impact, which are in tension with each other: it expresses concern that such publicity can make “the American death penalty appear more entrenched and routine than it truly is, and [obscure] the broader trends and transformations,” at the same time that it has the potential to generate awareness, motivate people to act and “accelerate the movement toward abolition.” This particular article takes up the task of speaking to the first concern– it would seem, in light of the perception that the second is taking care of itself.

I wonder if it is, if we really believe that the public outcry against Troy Davis’ execution was “enough”– or “too much,” balanced against the proposition of some negative effect that could issue from public overestimation of America’s weddedness to the death penalty (?). I wonder if it was because there is already “enough” of a movement that, for example, that no faculty from Harvard attended the student organized vigil the eve of Davis’ death– because of some countervailing interest in helping balance public opinion? Some of the hundred-some students gathered there did notice this absence and may be looking for a way to understand it, give it meaning. But I can guarantee that many, many more people would have noticed if there had been faculty present to share that moment with outraged and grieving students. And I think that the meaning and mobilizing effect this participation would have had on a rising generation of advocates is not to be underestimated. What, again, was the concern that could outweigh this?


Troy Davis: clemency denied

Time sums it up:

When Texas Governor Rick Perry said in a recent Republican presidential candidates’ debate that his sleep is untroubled by doubts about the guilt of any of the 235 men and women who have been executed on his watch, he pointed out that his state has “a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place” to review death penalty cases. A cornerstone of that process, in Texas and elsewhere, is the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is designed to act as a safety valve, removed from the emotion of the crime and the courtroom. It’s a last resort, not to retry a case, but to ensure that a conviction is so ironclad that there is no doubt that it merits the ultimate punishment.

That safety valve failed in Georgia Tuesday, just as it has on a number of occasions in Texas. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied convicted murderer Troy Davis’ last appeal for clemency, setting him on a seemingly unstoppable course for execution Wednesday evening.

Judges in Butts County, GA, where the prison is located, and the Georgia Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed this morning by Davis’ lawyers challenging the “egregiously false and misleading” evidence presented at his trial. No physical evidence linked Davis to the crime, and seven eyewitnesses have made the extraordinary move of recanting their testimony.

The execution of what many believe is an innocent man is set for less than two hours from now. Davis’ plight reminds us of Justice Stewart’s concurring opinion in Furman v. Georgia, which led to a temporary moratorium on the death penalty nearly forty years ago. Forty years later, the death penalty is still cruel and unusual in its arbitrariness.