The legal organization responsible for designing the model penal code has withdrawn its support for a key provision of the code that inadvertently served as the cornerstone for modern death penalty statutes.
The American Law Institute intended to remain neutral on capital punishment when it crafted the model penal code in 1962. The code contained, however, a template for considering conflicting constitutional values in death penalty cases that required due process of law based on objective criteria and individual consideration of the special facts and circumstances of each capital case.
The guided discretion construct was ignored by the states until 1972 when the United States Supreme Court invalidated all state death penalty laws for failing to provide due process of law in a nondiscriminatory manner that weighed the competing interests of even-handed administration of law with individual consideration of each capital case.
States attempted to fix the problem by adopting the guided discretion template of the MPC. In 1976 the Supreme Court approved resumption of capital punishment on the strength of the MPC endorsement.
As a result, the ALI gained first-hand experience with the only law beyond its expertise: the law of unintended consequences.
In October 2009, the ALI withdrew its support for the guided discretion template and a legal report evaluating its application over the years said it had not worked.
It’s now time to look at all other legal and administrative aspects of death penalty administration to determine whether the system is merely broken or intrinsically flawed beyond repair.
November 17, 2009