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Nov. 3, 2011
Death Penalty Task Force Receives Charge

At the first meeting today of the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty, Supreme Court of Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor outlined the group’s charge.

“It should be made perfectly clear from the outset that this task force is not being asked to make a judgment on whether Ohio should or should not have the death penalty,” Chief Justice O’Connor said during her welcoming remarks. “This will not be your charge. What you are being asked to do is provide to the Court and the state bar guidance on the current laws on the subject, the practices in other jurisdictions, the data, the costs, and many other aspects associated with the death penalty.”

As a cooperative effort between the Supreme Court and the Ohio State Bar Association, the Joint Task Force is chaired by retired Second District Court of Appeals Judge James A. Brogan and includes 21 other members who are judges, prosecuting and defense attorneys, lawmakers, and law professors.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor announced the formation of the Joint Task Force during the annual State of Judiciary address to Ohio’s judges in September.

OSBA President Carol Seubert Marx, who also offered welcoming remarks, again reiterated the overarching goal of the group: “to ensure that Ohio’s death penalty is administered in the most fair and judicious manner possible.”

The group discussed which topics to study, including whether better preparation, funding and training for defense attorneys, prosecutors and trial judges is needed for death penalty cases, and what data to consider.

In his remarks, Judge Brogan raised several questions for the group to consider. They included whether the standard of proof in death penalty should be “beyond all doubt” instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt” in other criminal cases. He also discussed prosecutorial discretion in seeking the death penalty and whether the economics of the county impact how prosecutors make that decision. He also questioned whether discovery in death penalty cases should be different than in ordinary criminal cases. In addition, Judge Brogan asked whether death penalty cases deemed disproportional to other cases that did not include the death penalty should be set aside on appeal.

Once the task force develops a comprehensive set of recommendations over the course of several meetings, members will give their proposals next year to the state for consideration.