- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Oct. 6

The Commercial Appeal of Memphis on the death penalty:

The notion that capital punishment is administered in an arbitrary basis has for many years fueled the argument that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

Arbitrary administration has been among the factors that persuaded 20 states to overturn or abolish the death penalty and convinced governors in four others that moratoriums were necessary.

Elsewhere, delays in carrying out executions have driven up the cost associated with capital punishment, fueling one of the other arguments against it.

The late Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch, known for his unhesitating willingness to rule against capital punishment when necessary, gave us one of the more persuasive examples of the arbitrariness problem.

Victim-impact testimony given by relatives during the sentencing phase of murder trials “is unsettling because its use encourages the jury to quantify the value of the victim’s life and urges the finding that murder is more reprehensible if the victim is survived by a bereaved family than if the victim had not family at all,” he said.

This week an article produced by the USA TODAY network provided some hope that the arbitrariness argument may progress beyond anecdote and toward a fuller understanding of how unfair the death penalty can be.

An analysis by a group of lawyers who examined more than 2,000 first-degree murder cases in Tennessee, where the death sentence was reinstated in 1977, showed, for example, that of 2,095 first-degree murder cases in Tennessee identified since 1977, only 193 resulted in death sentences.

And of those 193, 104 - or 54 percent - have been reversed, nearly half because the lawyers who represented the defendants at trial were found to have been ineffective. Only 0.3 percent of those defendants convicted were executed.

The lawyers, compiling evidence for a motion asking Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins to deem the death penalty unconstitutional, also found that only 48 of 95 counties in the state have imposed a death sentence.

Defendants who kill two or more victims are seven times more likely to receive a sentence of life in prison or life without parole, they found, even though multiple victims are a factor juries can consider in handing out a death sentence.

And, perhaps in the most persuasive evidence of arbitrary administration of the ultimate punishment for crime, 10 out of 14 capital punishment cases in Tennessee over the past 10 years involved African-American defendants.

It would be a tall order, indeed, to eliminate the arbitrariness problem, which can batter the emotions of victims’ families as it leaves the fate of convicted murderers subject to whim.

While some crimes are so heinous that they argue for taking the life of the perpetrator, whether that punishment is actually carried out seems little more than a roll of the dice.

Online: https://www.commercialappeal.com/


Oct. 9

The Johnson City Press on bullying in schools:

How should you correctly punish a bully? That’s the problem vexing many school officials.

A report released earlier this year found zero-tolerance policies are ineffective in combating bullying. As a result, officials with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine say bullying should no longer be dismissed as simply kids being kids.

Researchers are now urging school systems to end zero-tolerance policies that automatically suspend students for bullying and take a more comprehensive approach to deal with the root causes of the problem.

This should include family counseling. Experts say bullying is often a behavior children learn from their parents and siblings.

Tennessee law requires school systems to implement a policy defining bullying and outlining the punishment for students who intimidate their classmates.

Social media, smartphones and the internet have provided new forums for bullies to operate. State officials report cyberbullying to be a particularly vexing problem. The use of electronic technology to intimidate or harass a classmate is on the rise.

School officials, however, say they are still limited in what they can do to stop cyberbullying.

Tennessee releases an annual report of bullying statistics that could prove to be a good start to helping craft successful programs in dealing with this problem. Officials must also evaluate the role parents should play in dealing with bullying.

Holding parents of confirmed bullies more accountable for the actions of their children would be a good start.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/


Oct. 12

The Johnson City Press on why residents should have smoke detectors:

This is National Fire Prevention Month and firefighting officials want to remind you that the best investment you will ever make in home safety is to have a properly functioning smoke detector installed in every bedroom of your residence.

Having a working smoke detector in the home more than doubles a person’s chances of surviving a house fire.

Tennessee routinely ranks among the top five states in the nation when it comes to the number of residents killed in house fires. Many of those lives might have been saved by a fully functioning smoke detector.

New technology - such as dual sensor smoke alarms that warn of both flame and smoke - has made these essential devices even more effective. Dual sensor alarms use both ionization and photoelectric technologies.

An ionization smoke alarm warns of flaming fires, such as a cooking fire. The photoelectric alarm is more responsive to a smoldering fire, such as that from overheated wiring.

If you have a neighbor, friend or relative who is elderly or in poor health, it is a good idea to check their smoke detectors to make sure they are operating properly.

Don’t invite tragedy. Make sure your smoke detectors are working properly and that your family has a plan for getting out of a burning home.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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