- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor questioned the fairness of the death penalty, saying some death row inmates had inferior representation and may not have had access to DNA testing that could clear them.
"If statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed," Justice O'Connor said yesterday to the Minnesota Women Lawyers association.
Six death row inmates were exonerated and released last year, and 90 have been exonerated and set free since 1973, according to Justice O'Connor, who has been a swing vote on several death penalty cases.
Justice O'Connor said the growing availability of DNA testing may alleviate some concerns. But she said most states with capital punishment have not passed laws addressing post-conviction testing.
She also said defendants with more money get better legal defense. In Texas last year, she said, people represented by court-appointed attorneys were 28 percent more likely to be convicted than those who hired their own attorneys. If convicted, they were 44 percent more likely to be sentenced to death.
"Perhaps it's time to look at minimum standards for appointed counsel in death cases and adequate compensation for appointed counsel when they are used," she said.
Noting that Minnesota does not have the death penalty, Justice O'Connor said, "You must breathe a big sigh of relief every day."
Justice O'Connor made no mention of cases decided in the court's just-concluded term, including its intervention that ended the Florida recount in the presidential election. Outside the hotel where she spoke, a handful of protesters criticized Justice O'Connor for her vote in the Florida case, which was decided 5-4.

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