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A task force established by the Ohio State Bar Association and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to investigate if capital punishment in Ohio is administered fairly has found that the state’s death penalty system is plagued by racial and geographic disparities. The task force has been asked to propose reforms that might address these disparities.

Subsequently, one of the task force’s recommendations is to make individual county prosecutors answerable to a panel under the state attorney general when they decide to prosecute a death penalty case. The panel would have the authority to disprove death penalty charges, according to a report by Robert Higgs of The Plain Dealer:

Once a prosecutor made a decision, the panel — made up of staff from the attorney general’s office and former county prosecutors appointed by the governor — would review that decision.
It would look at the circumstances of the case, giving particular consideration to the races of those charged and the victims, said Jo Ellen Cline, government relations counsel to the Ohio Supreme Court and the court’s liaison to the joint task force.
“It would be a significant change in how things operate now,” Cline said.

Ohio Public Defender Timothy Young, who chaired a subcommittee that drafted the recommendation, told The Plain Dealer that the vast majority of capital cases in Ohio come out of urban areas – far more per capita than rural areas. Young said there are more than 40 counties that have never prosecuted a death penalty case in Ohio. The sub-committee felt that by channeling all proposed capital prosecutions through a central committee, there would be more consistency in the application of the death penalty across the state.

But the recommendation is controversial and only passed out of the committee by a two-vote margin: 8 to 6.

For the recommendation to be adopted, it would likely have to go through Ohio’s legislature. The task force plans to be finished its report by the end of 2013, and prepare its recommendations for the legislature and the Supreme Court soon thereafter.

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