Thursday, November 02, 2006

That creaking sound you hear.... the sound of Texas' death penalty system continuing to crumble at its very foundation.

This past weekend, my alma mater, the Austin American-Statesman, published an extremely well researched series by reporter Chuck Lindell. The series examined the abysmal state of Texas' death penalty appellate system.

Folks, this is arguably the most important death-penalty related journalism done in the United States this year. My friend and colleague Steve Hall calls it a "must read." It's not sexy stuff like the recent Chicago Tribune and Houston Chronicle articles suggesting that innocent people were executed. Rather, it's a very comprehensive and complex look at the sorry state of death penalty appeals in Texas. And remember: Death row exonerations do not miraculously happen. There's no Perry Mason moment when suddenly judges and prosecutors come to their senses and release innocent people. It's a complex, drawn-out process -- exonerations occur as a result of habeas appeals, and if you are innocent and have an incompetent habeas attorney then you will be executed. It's that simple.

I won't go into the whole series -- you can read it here. (Note: this takes a moment to download.)

But I do want to quote legal blogger Andrew Cohen, who posted a piece headlined, "Why the death penalty soon will be abolished." His piece concludes:

Either states like Texas will spend the time and money necessary to fix their problems or, ultimately, the Supreme Court will fix the problems for them. A generation ago, the Court simply declared unconstitutional the death penalty in America until states were willing and able to generate consistent standards for determining when a capital sentence was justifiied or not. It's not about to happen in the next few days, or months, or perhaps even years. But at the rate things are going, and with the mess in Texas being just a prominent tip of an iceberg that floats through states like Oklahoma and Florida as well, it is virtually a certainty that one day soon the Supreme Court will shut down the whole process again until things get fixed. And if and when that happens, death penalty proponents in Texas and elsewhere, the ones who allow men and women to be executed without getting decent legal help, will have no one to blame but themselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"death penalty proponents in Texas and elsewhere, the ones who allow men and women to be executed without getting decent legal help"

No legal help? Not being a lawyer, I seem to remember reading about these little laws and rights designed to protect anyone in the legal justice system, we call them 'Miranda Rights' (Ernesto Miranda kidnapped and raped the 18 year old woman in that case BTW, which was later proved in the case retrial), we also call one of these laws the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (no self incrimination except us military types) and the Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) as well as dozens of other like minded laws. Isn't the real question here who is willing to foot the bill for the overwhelming number of GUILTY death row offenders who tie up the legal system ad-nauseam to keep their worthless carcasses alive with appeals submissions. What isn't fair is not that they don't have adequate legal representation, it is that the victims of those who are on death row for a crime don't have the recourse to 'appeal' to the perpetrator to 'un'commit the horrible crime for which the criminal ended up on death row to begin with.