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Albany, N.Y.-Governor George E. Pataki last week called on the state Legislature to address promptly a New York Court of Appeals decision striking down the death penalty. Pataki, at a year-end press conference, said he was unhappy that a court comprised primarily of his appointees struck his signature initiative. He said lawmakers should move quickly to amend the statute. “I am disappointed in that decision,” the governor said. “I am not going to comment on the court, but I am disappointed in the decision.” Pataki was elected 10 years ago on a platform to restore capital punishment. In June, before anyone was executed under the law, the court, New York’s highest, found a key provision unconstitutional and unseverable. Consequently, the statute is essentially unenforceable. All of Pataki’s appointees to the Court of Appeals, except for one, voted to uphold the law. Judge Albert M. Rosenblatt voted with three appointees of former Governor Mario M. Cuomo, who repeatedly vetoed death penalty legislation, to cast the decisive fourth vote. Also in the majority in People v. LaValle were Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and judges George Bundy Smith and Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick. “I believe the death penalty is part of a balanced and fair approach to criminal justice, and we were unable to get the court decision fixed,” Pataki said, citing the Legislature’s lack of action on capital punishment as one of the major frustrations of the legislative session. In LaValle, the so-called “deadlock provision” was found unconstitutional. That provision requires the judge to advise the jury that its failure to reach unanimous agreement on a sentence of either life without parole or death will result in a court-imposed sentence that would make the convict eligible for parole. The court, over the dissent of Pataki appointees Victoria A. Graffeo, Susan Phillips Read and Robert S. Smith, found the provision unconstitutionally coercive. Pataki is eager for a legislative “fix”- presumably a fairly easy chore since the Court of Appeals’ concern would seemingly be resolved by making the default sentence life without parole. However, the Assembly, the Legislature’s Democratic-controlled lower house, is leery of taking quick action and is holding hearings on the viability of the entire statute.

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