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Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America's Death Row [Kindle Edition]

David R. Dow
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

When David Dow took his first capital case, he supported the death penalty. He changed his position as the men on death row became real people to him, as he came to witness the profound injustices they endured: from coerced confessions to disconcertingly incompetent lawyers; from racist juries and backward judges to a highly arbitrary death penalty system.

Dow’s eye-opening book is captivating because he allows the men, and their cases, to speak for themselves. For instance, one inmate’s lawyer literally slept through his trial; another inmate was executed because the jury never heard from two eyewitnesses who swore he was no the murderer; and yet another inmate was allowed to represent himself at trial despite the fact that his mental imbalance, which included attempts to issue a subpoena to Jesus Christ, was evident.

It is these concrete accounts of the people Dow has known and represented that prove the death penalty is consistently unjust, and it’s precisely this fundamental—and lethal—injustice, Dow argues, that should compel us to abandon the system altogether.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This volume joins a growing list of recent books arguing against the death penalty, particularly by people who once supported it. Dow, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center and founder of the Texas Innocence Network, used to be "somewhere between agnostic and mildly in favor of capital punishment." Then, in 1988, he took on the case of Carl Johnson-and began to change his mind. Johnson's lawyer literally slept through crucial parts of the trial, and the judge, in Dow's opinion, gave an incorrect answer to a question from the jury that might have compelled them to sentence Johnson to death. The arguments Dow presents are pragmatic, based not on abstract theories but on facts: only a handful of murderers are executed, he says, and they are "almost never the worst of the worst"-not the Hannibal Lecters, not the Charles Mansons. Rather, they are poor members of minority groups who have been represented by incompetent lawyers, manipulated into forced confessions, or have, in some cases, even been innocent. All of these points will be familiar to opponents of capital punishment, but readers who are on the fence may learn much from Dow's impassioned but well-reasoned case.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Formerly a supporter of the death penalty, attorney Dow examines the inherent unfairness of the process of imposing the death penalty. Currently, sentencing focuses too much on guilt rather than fairness, Dow asserts. He focuses on a number of cases involving horrible crimes, in which the determination of the death penalty depended less on the crime and guilt than on a culmination of other factors, including official corruption and inept defense attorneys and judges. In effect, contrary to public notions that the penalty fit a particular crime, the death penalty is as random as a lightning strike. Dow provides historical perspective on the death penalty--outlawed in 1972 because of its arbitrary use, and its reinstatement with an extensive appeal process meant to address concerns about constitutionality. But a 1996 law effectively undercut the appeal process, sacrificing fairness as the application of the death penalty appeared less a response to horrendous crimes and more a measure of the accused's race, class, and inability to secure a fair trial. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 2515 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (May 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,852 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Highly Readable, Compelling Work May 27, 2005
There are no punches pulled here. David Dow doesn't shy away from describing his representation of the truly guilty or their crimes. But what will take your breath away are his descriptions of the brutally honest conversations that post-conviction counsel must have with their death row clients. It's not about asking "Did you do it" but advising the condemned that no matter how good the case or the lawyer, the death sentence probably will be carried out. Perhaps only oncologists for Stage 4 cancer patients know how it feels to be so brutally honest.

Books on legal topics have a deserved reputation for being dense, dry, and mired in technical language. Dow avoids these traps with clear, compelling writing and delivers a work that is accessible to lay people and lawyers alike.

For lawyers, the book is attractive for its well-argued and well-supported themes. The footnotes are worth the price of entry alone.

For the lay reader, Dow develops his themes by focusing on the cases of some of the many death row inmates he has represented over the years. Along the way, he describes his personal journey from death penalty supporter to abolitionist.

This is a worthwhile work for anyone concerned about our criminal justice system and the myriad ways in which the "machinery of justice" and the "machinery of death" do not mesh.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
The author, David Dow, is a law professor at the University of Houston who has practiced as a lawyer representing death row inmates in Texas for over fifteen years. His book is unusual for several reasons. First, Dow is writing as an insider - an experienced death row attorney. Second, the book is not intended to elicit `amens' from like-minded activists: Dow once supported the death penalty himself, does not dismiss that view out of hand, does not indulge the sentimental fantasy that most death row inmates are innocent, and does not downplay the seriousness of the crimes the guilty ones have committed. Finally, Dow is one of those rare lawyers who can actually write. His prose is clear and unsentimental, but also colorful and peppered with strong judgments backed by proof.

Using careful argumentation, Dow makes three main points. First, questions of innocence, while important, should not drive the debate on the death penalty. To Dow, the condemnation of innocent people, or people who are guilty but did not receive fair trials, is merely a symptom of a disease. That disease - a set of systemic problems with the capital punishment system - should be the real focus of study and reform. Second, the "endless appeals" that most people think ensure careful review often do nothing of the sort. Dow chronicles case after case in which courts and lawyers argue over the Byzantine technical rules to the defendant's appeal, only to have the courts eventually decide that they are legally barred from even hearing evidence as to whether the inmate's trial was fair.

Finally, Dow argues that legions of judges, under the intense political and emotional pressure of death penalty cases, have given up on the rule of law.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sad but Compelling Book June 6, 2005
A woman recently died in our state prison. She had killed a half dozen people before she was caught and sentenced to life. She went to jail a dozen or more years ago. At the time there was a lot of comment that she should have gotten the death penalty. In fact, even after her death there were peole who said that she should have been put to death. I asked some of them why. She was locked up, she didn't hurt any more people, society was just as safe as if she had been killed, but we didn't kill her. They didn't have a good answer beyond "we just should have."

The United States is right up there with all the other progressive countries that allow the death penalty: North Korea, Iran, Iraq, China, Vietnam, most of Africa and the middle East. Notably missing from this list include England, Germany, France, Finland, most of the civilized countries.

I don't know why, but I guess that I had hoped that with an issue so important that our Government, our legal system would be very careful and lean over backwards to execute only the worst of the worst. Why do we allow people to be executed because a piece of paper was filed a day late? Why do we execute people when there is any chance at all that they might not be guilty? Why do ask the state to make our society a little more violent than it already is.

This is a sad book that makes compelling reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love this book July 19, 2010
By jodi r
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I work in the California caurt system and date a Public Defender. This book helped destroy what little faith I had left in the criminal justice system while at the same time lifting my esteem of all those who make their living defending people who the general public have deemed worthless. Please read this book we are all affected by the laws of this country even if we do not realise it untill either ourselfs or a loved one are sucked into the "tough on crime" vortex that we as Americans continue to belive in despite all the evidance that it is not effective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not In My Name! March 13, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For those who have always wondered why we murder people as punishment for murdering people, this is a riveting read. Written for the lay person though somewhat dense and detailed, it is not always easy but well worth the effort. The overriding moral of this treatise is the death penalty is exacted mostly on poor people and, at that, not necessarily evenhandedly or upon those who are guilty. Dow writes clearly from illuminating examples and with detailed understanding of things as they unfairly are. This is an emotionally charged subject of a complicated act encased in a convoluted legal maze. The accused are victims of a society which values expediency over fairness. David Dow is their powerful advocate.
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More About the Author

David R. Dow is the Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center, and the Rorschach Visiting Professor of History at Rice University. A graduate of Rice and Yale, Dow's areas of expertise include constitutional law and theory, contract law, and death penalty law. Working with students in his death penalty clinic, Dow represents death row inmates during their state and federal appeals. He is also the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network.

He lives in Houston and Park City, Utah, with his wife Katya, their son Lincoln, and their dog Franklin.

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