Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Texas Moratorium Too?

Will the US Supreme Court's decision to examine lethal injection protocols in Kentucky mean a moratorium on executions in Texas?

That seems to be the case for the rest of the country but 5 of 9 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges and the Texas Attorney General want to continue. For the full story read the New York Times coverage, Doc Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy, and Steve Hall at the Stand Down Project:
Once again we find the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals thumbing its nose at the US Supreme Court. How much hubris does it take to continually flout the Supremes on the highest-profile issue the CCA faces? (I'm still looking to find out who voted which way on the CCA; as of this morning the opinion and vote weren't posted online).

At the end of the Times' article we learn that an execution earlier this week was allowed because the CCA refused to grant lawyers from the Texas Defender Service an extra 20 minutes due to a last-minute computer crash. Reported the Times:
The stay for the Texas execution was issued two days after the court did not stop Texas from executing another inmate, Michael Richard, leading to some confusion about its intentions.

Lawyers in the case on Tuesday said their appeal had been turned down because of an unusual series of procedural problems.

Professor Dow said the computers crashed at the Texas Defender Service in Houston while lawyers were rewriting his appeal to take advantage of the high court’s unexpected interest in lethal injection.

Because of the resulting delay, the lawyers missed by 20 minutes the 5 p.m. filing deadline at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, where the appeal had to go first before moving to the Supreme Court.

The Texas court refused their pleas to remain open for the extra minutes. Because the lawyers missed that crucial step, Professor Dow said, the Supreme Court had to turn down the appeal, and Mr. Richard was executed.

But on Thursday, with a more carefully crafted appeal for Mr. Turner, and the Texas court’s closely split rejection, the Supreme Court called a halt to another lethal injection.

One frequently hears complaints about criminals who receive leniency in the courts because of a "technicality," but in this case Michael Richard was put to death because of one. I know court deadlines are awfully strict, but I wonder if the CCA has ever granted a few extra minutes to a prosecutor whose computer crashed at deadline?

I might be less skeptical of the CCA's decision to not cut Michael Richard and the Defender Service a break if a majority of CCA judges hadn't chosen two days later to openly defy the US Supreme Court, causing SCOTUS to issue its own execution stay. Even after that, Texas plans to pursue more near-term executions, reported the Times:

“The Supreme Court’s decision to stay convicted murderer Carlton Turner’s execution will not necessarily result in an abrupt halt to Texas executions,” said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas. “State and federal courts will continue to address each scheduled execution on a case-by-case basis.”

I'm a little surprised that General Abbott would join the CCA majority to advocate continuing Texas executions after the Supremes' have stated their disapprobation. It's not like SCOTUS has been shy about slapping down Texas when the CCA tries to spite them. A lot of lawyers and judges in this state have grown tired of the CCA embarrassing Texas in the national legal eye; I'd think Abbott would want to distance himself from such an imbroglio.

Anyway, at this point the smart money probably banks on a de facto Texas moratorium (perhaps imposed straight up by SCOTUS) until the Kentucky litigation is resolved, but that doesn't mean Texas officials won't do everything in their power to get around it.


Anonymous said...

A Letter to Scott

I implore you, my dear readers, to read Scott Henson’s blog on Texas criminal justice politics and practices at I just enjoyed his article, “What did the 80th Texas Legislature do on prisoner issues?” in the August 17th issue of The San Antonio Current. I agree with nearly all of the issues he brought up, save one—the voting issue.

You know, Scott, P-Diddy ran that Vote or Die campaign daring everyone to vote, and I’m continually hearing all this banter about prisoner disenfranchisement and how ex-cons, and even prisoners, should be allowed, and told, to vote. Look, our Democratic ideal of “for the people, by the people” instructs us to pay heed to the votes of all people, even the constituency of exhibitionist masturbators, which is what 7 out of 10 prisoners under the age of 40 would be in. And I respect that, I really do, because if Big Brother were to disenfranchise these guys, then there’s no telling where he’d stop.

But let me clarify something. I’m a Texas prisoner, and I’m reporting in (almost) real time from the battlefield, and in a very objective manner! I’m going to tell you why an ex-con constituency will be inherently ill-informed.

The vast majority of prisoners are not only physically imprisoned, but also mentally imprisoned. Very few are aware of, much less care about, current events out there in the “free world” (which is NOT the prison world). No, the concerns are:

“Is she good?”
“Who’s on F-wing?”
“I hope they have brownies for dessert”
“Are they running recreation?”

And things of that sort, day in day out, year in year out. There is the TV—the window to the world—but that’s on Maury Povic and Jerry Springer everyday. People who watch Jerry Springer can’t make rational votes. Those two activities are mutually exclusive! True, a few get papers and financial/political/news magazines, but they’re statistically insignificant, as are those who go to college here.

Scott, you write, “so register and vote, or do so as soon as you’re off paper.” But that’s sorely lacking. How about adding, “and become familiar with the issues”? Anything less would be akin to an infant being born and immediately going to vote. Such a vote would obviously be intellectually dilutive to the voting pool. Focus on reintegrating and educating before instigating to go shit out a vote.

Look, I like Rick Perry and his hardliner hordes about as much as you do, but take it from me, our ideological sled of rationality isn’t going to be pulled into an era of self-actualization by a bloc of ill-informed ex-cons. Just be patient. The Democratic insurrection in Dallas’s judiciary will be followed by one in Houston when Bradshaw beats Rosenthal in the run for Chief D.A. This is the beginning of a new paradigm (and I’m no Democrat, mind you. I’m a staunch moderate, as paradoxical as that sounds). I appreciate the light you’re shining on the atrocity known as the TDC, but as far as all prisoners needing to vote and what not, back up, Scott, you’re playing with fire.

Anonymous said...

This clown talks a big game uses big words.If the people really seen what happens in class they will be sick.And the Harris Co. DA race, his name is not Bradshaw.This is another clown that thinks he above the Law.He can not even run his crime lab.

Anonymous said...

Abolish the death penalty and allow every citizen that is of age to vote!

Candidates and the government can make information available to prisoners so they can cast their vote as they see fit.

The case presented against the idea of prisoners voting does not hold water. People with no education and a low IQ vote in this democracy.

Denying the vote to the incarcerated is punishment pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

Even if you give all people over 18 the vote, unless you make them use it, you may still not get the government that the educated people want.

Texas inmate makes good points, very few inmates have any idea or interest in anything past what's for the next meal and if there will be any candy left by the time they get to the store window. But it that really all their fault, or is it another of TDCJ's failings that no one is really showing inmates that there IS another world out there that they could be part of if they chose to be?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The truth is most voters are more concerned on an everyday basis with whether there are brownies for dessert than about politics. Ignorant people get to vote, too. Perhaps I should have said ex-prisoners should read Grits and vote!

Anonymous said...

the cca makes me ashamed to be a texan. i'm claiming to be from oklahoma, if anyone asks.

Anonymous said...

It seems that Texas is now in the midst of a de facto moratorium on executions.

It would make sense if Texas would use this time out on executions to examine the entire death penalty system in Texas and not just the question of lethal injections as a method of execution. We particularly need to decide whether there are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent the execution of innocent people and to ensure that everyone has competent representation. The best way to ensure that everyone on trial for their lives has competent representation is to establish a statewide Office of Public Defenders for Capital Cases.