Proposed legislation aims to expedite death row cases in Tennessee
The Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court visited in Kingsport Tuesday, and we asked him about Tennessee's death penalty.
Chief Justice Jeff Bivins is a Kingsport native and an East Tennessee State University graduate.
We wanted to find out about death penalty cases, because they are notorious for lingering in Tennessee.
News 5's Jessica Griffith got to talk to Chief Justice Bivins...
There is proposed legislation that would take death penalty appeals directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the court of appeals.
I wanted to find out if Chief Justice Jeff Bivins thinks this would expedite cases of death row inmates.
Right now, the Tennessee Department of Corrections lists more than 60 inmates on death row in the state. 16 of those were convicted in East Tennessee. The last execution was in 2009. Chief Justice Bivins says an average death row inmate has been there for more than 20 years. A spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Corrections says it costs nearly $110 a day to keep an offender on death row.
"It is a very high cost. But it's something that the people of Tennessee decided that through the members of the legislation that they do want to maintain the death penalty," Bivins said. The long length of these cases is a reason new legislation is proposed to have direct death row appeals go straight to the Supreme Court. It would not involve post conviction appeals. Bivins tells us there are pros and cons to this legislation. "It would probably speed up the process by 6 months or so. But it also is helpful to have the court of criminal appeals review it because they are able to narrow down the issues and it's another set of eyes on that," he said. He also says the supreme court has only had 5 of those cases over the last 5 years. "It's not that big of a case load for us," he said. While the court's goal is to be efficient, Bivins says they can't work too fast, that they overlook something. "It's an incredibly important decision. It's a critical decision. It's a life or death decision, literally." Chief Justice Bivins tells us a case pending in court now might help free up some death row cases so they can be set for execution.
It's a challenge to the lethal injection protocol.
Right now, Tennessee uses a single drug protocol, as a way to be more efficient and humane.
Bivins says a decision will come down in about a month.
If the decision upholds the protocol, he says it would free up a number of cases so they can be set for execution.