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Amicus Review: Supreme Court Bars Alabama from Executing Willie Smith Without Pastor By His Side

Amicus will be publishing a series of reviews and comments on the way capital punishment is presented within the media. Covering books, films, peer-reviewed articles and mainstream news, our work will cover the whole spectrum of public exposure to this violent form of justice. We hope that this will provide some context to the work that we do and raise awareness of the inherent injustices that face ordinary people on death row as well as recommending some good books and films along the way. If you have any questions about the project, the content or about our work then please get in touch at

Supreme Court Bars Alabama from Executing Willie Smith Without Pastor By His Side. – Equal Justice Initiative, - Review by Leona Walker

This article raises both topical and important issues. Concern’s surrounding Mr Smith’s intellectual difficulty can be discussed in detail. As per the quotation ‘The Decision about whether his low intellectual functioning makes him ineligible for the death penalty was based on an outdated and faulty analysis’. There is the possibility of a miscarriage of justice by misunderstanding the mental capacity and stability the defendant has. Applying Moore V Texas, the outcome for Willie would be considerably different if the decision were made today. This case highlighted that the decision made was wrong, and Mr Smith should actually be ineligible for the death penalty. This is highlighted in the article at paragraph 3 of the opening and under the heading; intellectual disability. There needs to be awareness drawn to these rights violations as Willie Smith’s life should not depend on a ‘matter of timing’.

I personally think his intellectual difficulty further perpetuates the injustice of his circumstances. As set out in paragraph 4 and 5 in the opening to the article, Mr Smith experienced insufficient representation during his trial. Coupling this with his difficulty, the absence of a fair trial is clear. This is a very topical issue and upon reading the article you will be able to draw parallels with the issues that face the UK criminal justice system. Mr Smith is not given an adequate defence, like the large number of litigants in person, in the UK court system. The lack of representation can lead to an imbalance of power between the state/prosecution and the defendant. This can further expose the defendant to a miscarriage of justice due to the absence of a fair trial. It further raises the idea that the death penalty is not been reserved for the worst of the worst criminals but instead the poorest as defendants like Mr smith are unable to adequately represent themselves in a court of law. Once again displaying infringements on Mr Smith’s right to due process.

Another matter in Mr Smith’s case to be disputed is the divided Jury (see the final paragraph in the opening of the article). If he were in nearly any other state, the sentence of death would be barred. The decision in Alabama raises the suggestion that Mr Smith is suffering substantially more, due to his geographical location in the United States of America. It is important when reading the article to consider whether Mr Smith’s life should be ended in the presence of clear doubt? This doubt, asserted from the dissenting jurors, shows a real issue with the current system being used in Alabama. Someone can die based on a jury which is just a majority decision not one which is unvarying.

Another important argument raised in the article, is Mr Smith’s right to exercise his religion. The article outlines the reasoning the state gave for rejecting Mr Smith’s request for a pastor, as well as the court’s decision regarding the latter. The decision (set out at the end of the second section of this article) was made 21 hours before he was set to be executed. Upon reading this you can decide for yourself whether you believe the state actions have been a violation of Willie Smith's rights to exercise his religion.

To conclude this article brings a lot of underlying emotion, I believe there should be equal justice given to everyone within the system. We should not see the disparities at present which are caused by the inaccessibility of justice. Additionally, the matters of rights previously mentioned and the right to live are at the forefront on analysis of this article. This should be read to expand your understanding of this topical issue, as Joe Biden the new president in the United State is set to oppose federal executions. This article shines a light on injustice and brings about important discussions which are the aim of amicus. Those who are underrepresented have the right to be heard and have a due process to prevent injustices as displayed in the case of Andrew lee Jones which started Amicus.

Key Quote: ‘The Decision about whether his low intellectual functioning makes him ineligible for the death penalty was based on an outdated and faulty analysis’.

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