death sentence on humanitarian grounds.
In December 1991, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was split by a 13 to 13 tie
vote over whether to grant Robert Harris a court hearing to determine whether he was deprived
of effective psychiatric assistance at his original trial. The tied vote meant, in effect,
a refusal to grant the full evidentiary hearing Harris' lawyers had sought.
Commenting on the tied vote, Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a member of the Ninth Circuit Court
of Appeals, wrote in dissent: "Can we really justify the taking of a human life in a case
in which, for example... up to half the members of this court of twenty-eight may believe
that the law prohibits us from doing so? Should life or death depend on the Page 2 of 2FU 63/90
vote of one judge among many, when there are legitimate arguments on both sides and the
decision could as easily go the other way?"
Robert Harris will appeal to Governor Pete Wilson for clemency. There are no clear criteria
by which the California authorities consider clemency applications. Governor Wilson is
being urged to convene a panel of experts and to hear testimony from all interested parties.
Governor Wilson would require approval to commute Harris' death sentence from a majority
of the seven-member California Supreme Court. This is because Harris has two prior felony
BACKGROUND INFORMATION, INTERNATIONAL LAW CONCERNS
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right
to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
California's death penalty law was enacted in 1977 and 1978. At the beginning of 1992 there
were 308 prisoners under sentence of death. The method of execution is lethal gas.
Amnesty International believes that Robert Harris' execution would be inconsistent with
internationally recognized minimum standards safeguarding the rights of those facing the
death penalty. In May 1989, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (EcoSoc) adopted
Resolution 1989/64 which advocates "eliminating the death penalty for persons suffering
from mental retardation or extremely limited mental competence, whether at the stage of
sentence or execution."
International treaties and standards encourage governments to restrict the use of the death
penalty with a view to its ultimate abolition. United Nations General Assembly Resolution
2857 (XXVI), adopted in December 1971, affirms that: "...in order fully to guarantee the
right to life, as provided for in article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
the main objective to be pursued is that of progressively restricting the number of offences
for which capital punishment may be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing
this punishment in all countries." Nearly half the countries of the world have now abolished
the death penalty in law or practice: a trend particularly marked in both Western and Eastern
Amnesty International believes that California's move to resume executions after 25 years
would be a retrograde step for human rights. It would be contrary to the spirit of article
4 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) and article 6 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which encourage progress towards abolition
of the death penalty. In 1977 the USA signed both the ACHR and the ICCPR, but neither has
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/telephone calls/express and airmail
letters (in ENGLISH, if possible):
- urging Governor Wilson to convene a panel of experts to consider all aspects of Robert