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Report No. 262

D. Fallibility of the Criminal Justice System and the Death Penalty

[The] death penalty is irrevocable; it cannot be recalled. It extinguishes the flame of life forever... It is by reason of its cold and cruel finality that death penalty is qualitatively different from all other forms of punishment.

Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1982) 3 SCC 24, 751, at para 23 (Bhagwati J., dissenting)

From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have endeavored--indeed, I have struggled along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor.

Rather than continue to coddle the Court's delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies.

The basic question--does the system accurately and consistently determine which defendants "deserve" to die?--cannot be answered in the affirmative. It is not simply that this Court has allowed vague aggravating circumstances to be employed, relevant mitigating evidence to be disregarded, and vital judicial review to be blocked. The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal, and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent, and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution.
.- Callins v. Collins, 510 US 1141 (1994) (Blackmun, J., dissenting)



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