Death Penalty

6th Circuit judge condemns death penalty as 'arbitrary, biased and broken' in parting opinion

In his 34 years on the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Boyce Martin was sometimes accused along with his liberal colleagues of being prone to issue stays in death penalty cases.

Prisoners could file just about anything—even a “hot dog menu”—and a majority of the court’s active members would grant a stay, Judge Danny Boggs wrote in a 2001 opinion noted in the New York Times.

In his last death penalty opinion (PDF), Martin made clear his distaste for the death penalty process, report the Volokh Conspiracy and the SBM Blog. Martin concurred with an opinion denying a death-row inmate’s habeas claim, but said he would “continue to condemn the use of the death penalty as an arbitrary, biased, and broken criminal justice tool.”

The defendant was convicted in 1990 and his execution was supposed to take place in 1994, Martin wrote in the July 25 concurrence. “I have been on this bench since 1979, and for 23 of my 34 years as a judge on this court this case has been moving through our justice system, consuming countless judicial hours, money, legal resources, and providing no closure for the families of the victims. Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has called for a dispassionate and impartial comparison of the enormous cost that death penalty litigation imposes on society with the benefits it produces. The time, money, and energy spent trying to secure the death of this defendant would have been better spent improving this country’s mental-health and educational institutions, which may help prevent crimes such as the ones we are presented with today.”

Martin, 77, is retiring Aug. 16, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported last month. Martin told the newspaper that he is battling prostate cancer and his wife also has cancer. “It is time to go,” Martin said. “I want to go out at the top of my game rather than having to be carried up and down from the bench.”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.