Sunday, November 14, 2004

Highest TX Criminal Court a "Laughingstock"

Texans haven't realized yet the extent to which the Austin-based Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has become a "national laughingstock," as Justice Tom Price put it. Perhaps that's starting to change.

Texas Monthly's November issue includes an
article by the intrepid Michael Hall, perhaps at the moment the magazine's best reporter, dissecting the CCA's numerous failures. In a featured case that made national news, the court failed to accept exonerating DNA evidence so conclusive that the Board of Pardons and Paroles released the defendant in a "stunning rebuff."

One case like that might be an anomaly, but Hall shows how it exemplifies a pattern of behavior that's callous to concerns of justice:

judges [on the CCA] were mostly ex-prosecutors whose main goal seemed to be to satisfy the state’s appetite for execution; the court reversed only 3 percent of the death penalty convictions that came before it, less than any other state high court. It even had a group of staff lawyers called the Death Squad who worked on nothing but death penalty cases.

"Since 2000, partly in response to the uproar over [the case involving the court's failure to accept DNA evidence], the CCA has moderated somewhat. But the past continues to haunt it. In the first half of this year, federal courts second-guessed a dozen Texas cases, ten of which had been acted on by the CCA after the 1994 election. The federal courts stayed two executions, set aside two death sentences, ordered three new trials, and mandated further hearings and other action in the rest."

CCA Chief Justice
Sharon Keller, along with Justices Barbara Hervey and Charles Holcomb are up for re-election in 2006. These three easily constitute the weakest statewide Republican targets available to Democats that year -- much weaker than any holder of a statewide executive seat like governor, lt. governor, attorney general or even land commissioner. The GOP started its Texas takeover twenty years ago with Karl Rove targeting relatively obscure court races. As Democrats begin their own long march back, they too should start with the courts -- in particular, this one.

1 comment:

peter said...

I am very happy Kenneth Fosters' sentence is commuted. The next step is to impeach Sharon Keller. When this killerlady is not removed there will be no justice in Texas.