Saturday, February 16, 2008

Does the Texas GOP need judges who think being Latino makes you a "continuing danger"?

Texas Monthly and many others consider them "Texas' Worst Court," and in this writer's opinion, everyone should seize every available opportunity to vote against incumbent members of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. If you're voting in the GOP primary on March 4, you'll get that chance in in one of the three races.

The San Antonio Express News today endorsed challenger Robert Francis, a state district judge from Dallas whose candidacy Grits examined here, against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Paul Womack. There are plenty of reasons to vote against Womack, but the paper trots out this oldie but goodie:

Womack, who has served on the court for 12 years, also wrote the outrageous 2002 Saldano opinion, which allowed ethnicity to be considered as evidence that a defendant would be a continuing danger to society.

Two years earlier, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn had successfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule a previous Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in the case.

A psychologist testified during Victor Hugo Saldano's sentencing that he would be a continuing danger to society because he was Hispanic.

Dismissing the concerns of the state's top lawyer, Womack wrote the majority opinion that denied a new sentencing hearing because the defense attorney did not object to the testimony during the trial.

So one's Latino ethnicity, if it were left up to Judge Womack and the CCA majority, could be used by "experts" at trial to convince jurors the defendant is a continuing danger to society. (I can't decide which is more outrageous - that decision or Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's refusal to accept a last-minute death penalty appeal.) Even John Cornyn, then Texas AG, felt it necessary to ask SCOTUS to bench slap his fellow Republicans.

This was one of a series of opinions (see it in full) where the CCA essentially thumbed its nose at the US Supreme Court and refused to follow its dicta. It sounds unbelievable, but that's who we've got representing us on Texas' highest criminal court.

Are you embarrassed yet? Republicans will get a chance to do something about it on March 4.

UPDATE: The Fort Worth Star Telegram also endorses Francis. See more coverage of the race from the Houston Chronicle.


Anonymous said...

The opinion does not allow ethnicity to be used as future danger evidence, it requires a lawyer to object to it in order to complain on appeal.

Anonymous said...

Um, there were 17 factors in the expert determining future danger in that case. The propensity of joining a hispanic gang was one of them.

You think the jury decided on that one? Or is it perhaps harmless?

Do you really think juries are that stupid? Do you have that little faith in the jury system?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 10:23 - you forgot to add, "in open defiance of the US Supreme Court's contrary opinion."

At the CCA, every error is "harmless" unless it harms the prosecution's case or the defendant is a police officer. The point is Womack has been part of the faction (in this case, leading it) thumbing their nose at SCOTUS, which disagreed with your analysis.

Anonymous said...

Due process is a designed to protect the powerless against the extreme power of the Government.

Courts only justificaton for their existance is to uphold the due process rights of everyone!

I whole heartedly agree that according to the Texas CCA, all error is harmless unless it involves the prosecution or a police officer.

The current judges need to be voted off the bench!