Monday, May 02, 2011

'The Mitigator': New Yorker mag gives props to Danalynn Recer

At The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin has a feature profiling Danalyn Recer, an anti-death-penalty lawyer and mitigation expert (and coincidentally a college pal of mine from back in the day - somebody I knew before either of us were interested in criminal justice work). Here's an abstract of the story, full access to which requires a subscription:
The death penalty is withering. The change has been especially striking in Houston, which has long reigned as the death-penalty capital of the nation. If Harris County, which includes Houston and its nearby suburbs, were a state, it would trail only the rest of Texas for the number of people executed. But last year prosecutors in Harris County sent only two people to death row. Explanations for the change vary. Crime is down everywhere, and fewer murders means fewer potential death-penalty cases. Widely publicized exonerations of convicted prisoners, based on DNA evidence, may have given some jurors second thoughts about imposing the death penalty.
Another explanation for the decline in death sentences has been the increasing use of mitigation, a strategy that aims to tell the defendant’s life story. In Texas, the most prominent mitigation strategist is a lawyer named Danalynn Recer, the executive director of the Gulf Region Advocacy Center. Based in Houston, GRACE has represented defendants in death-penalty cases since 2002. When the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume, in 1976, after a four-year hiatus, the Justices mandated a two-phase structure for death-penalty trials that has become familiar in subsequent decades. The “guilt phase” would determine whether the prosecution established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the charged capital offense. Following a conviction, the “penalty phase,” a separate mini-trial before the same jury, would consider whether the defendant should be sentenced to death. To make that determination, the Court sought to insure that jurors follow a rational process, rather than make a snap judgment about whether a defendant should live or die. This system, which became known as “guided discretion,” required jurors to weigh “aggravating factors” and “mitigating factors.” Mitigating factors generally include a defendant’s mental illness, or the absence of a prior criminal record, but the Court also made sure that defendants could come up with their own mitigating factors to present to jurors.
For a long time, defense lawyers didn’t know how to use this option to their advantage, and many largely ignored the penalty phase. In the nineteen-eighties, some death-penalty activists started taking a more systematic approach. The key figures in the change were not lawyers but anthropologists, ex-journalists, and even recent college graduates. The idea was to use the mitigation process to tell the life story of the defendant in a way that explained the conduct that brought him into court. The work was closer to biography than criminal investigation, and it led to the creation of a new position in the legal world: mitigation specialist. Tells about Recer’s work with Clive Stafford Smith and discusses the use of mitigation in the death-penalty cases of Scott Thibodeaux and Juan Quintero.
The article closes with well-deserved approbation from attorney Clive Stafford Smith: "When she want back to Houston, it was the death penalty capital of the world. She can take a lot of credit for the fact that it isn't anymore."


doran said...

Well, in some circumstances, as we know from today's Big Story, the death penalty is not withering at all. Considerations of good taste prevent me from suggesting that it is ---- alive and well.

Anonymous said...

Recer acted unethically by disclosing plea bargain negotiations (and more particularly, the State's rejection of an offer for life in prison) in advance of jury selection. She did so to try and influence the outcome of the case and to unfairly prejudice the State. Too bad you don't choose to include all the facts.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:25, too bad you don't have the cojones to attach your name to smears and accusations, or who knows? Somebody might take you seriously.

Anonymous said...

The facts were reported in the Houston Chronicle, so it must be true.

Anonymous said...

Juan Quintero murdered Houston police officer Rodney Johnson. After receiving his life sentence, he was placed in general population at the Polunsky Unit where he, and several other inmates, nearly escaped. This too was widely reported in the Houston media.

ckikerintulia said...

I expect that the availability of the life w/o parole option has had some effect in the lowering of death penaltys in Texas.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:16/7:25, I guarantee that if she ever made accusations against you, Dana wouldn't hide behind anonymity like a coward behind Mommy's skirt. Grow a pair.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

Thank You Grit's

ckikerintulia said...

Scott, glad you're calling out these anonymous snipers.

Anonymous said...

Grits, is there really any dispute that Quintero murdered a Houston Police officer in the line of duty? Or that Quintero, after getting his life sentence, attempted an escape from prison? The fact that Miss Recer assisted in the defense of this scumbag and helped save him from the needle is not really in contention, as I see it. In fact, it's almost promoted as some kind of wonderful accomplishment on her part in the article you quote. I don't see how mentioning that--either anonoymously or otherwise, constitutes any kind of "accusation" by the poster above. It's just a matter of fact. If she's offended by someone mentioning in public that she defends cop killers, then perhaps she should participate in a less controversial line of work.

Anonymous said...

Social Justice Organizations

Take your pick and support with your contributions:

6.1. Civil Rights Groups
6.2. Civil Rights Constituency Groups
6.3. Legal Defense of Civil Rights Groups
6.4. Immigration Rights Groups
6.5. Criminal Justice Groups
6.6. Groups Challenging Capital Punishment
6.7. Community Organizing Groups
6.8. Disability Rights Groups
6.9. Elder Advocacy Groups
6.10. Children Advocacy Groups
6.11. Family Advocacy Groups
6.12. Feminist / Women’s Liberation Groups
6.13. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Liberation Groups
6.14. Family Planning Groups

Anonymous said...

6.5. Criminal Justice Groups

Innocence Project
Works to achieve the exoneration and release of factually innocent inmates through post-conviction DNA testing and works to create a network of schools, organizations, and citizens that can effectively challenge wrongful convictions.

Sentencing Project
An independent source of criminal justice policy analysis, data, and program information for the public and policy makers.

Prison Policy Initiative (PPI)
Documents the impact of mass incarceration on individuals, communities, and the national welfare, and produces accessible and innovative research to empower the public to participate in creating better criminal justice policy.

Justice Policy Institute (JPI)
Works to enhance the public dialog on incarceration through accessible research, public education, and communications advocacy with the goal of ending society’s reliance on incarceration.

The Justice Project — Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR)
Works to address unfairness and inaccuracy in the American criminal justice system.

Critical Resistance
Seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.

Grassroots Leadership
Seeks to put an end to abuses of justice and the public trust by working to abolish for-profit private prisons.

6.6. Groups Challenging Capital Punishment

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)
Provides information, advocates for public policy, and mobilizes and supports individuals and institutions that share an unconditional rejection of capital punishment.

Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC)
Provides the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.

Longhorn74 said...

Hey "anonymous" the JURY decided that Quintero go LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE. That's the system. I suggest that if you don't like juries go to Iran!

Recer is the best of the best and you couldn't carry her briefcase.

I'm publishing my name and telephone number if you want to call and discuss.

Bobby Mims
Tyler, Texas

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:22, you're not just a coward, you're a moron. Nobody disputed Quintero killed a cop. My reaction was to making accusations about DR's ethics while hiding behind Mommy's skirt. Call Bobby Mims to discuss, since he's willing. I don't have time for you.

Anonymous said...

This was not premeditated.

A Houston Jury sentenced Juan Quintero to life without parole rather than to the death penalty. After the sentencing slain police officer Jerome Johnson's mother screeched "He deserves the Death Penalty!", his sister fainted hearing the verdict and his wife summed up the feeling in Houston by saying, "My Husband's life meant nothing."

The case had lots of issues within issues. Officer Johnson missed a 9mm handgun in his search of traffic suspect Quintero before he put him in the back seat of his squad car handcuffed behind his back. Quintero managed to get his handgun, get his hands in front him and empty it into the seat in front of him.

The police officer was black, Quintero, not only Hispanic but an illegal immigrant who had been deported to Mexico in 1999 for sexual abuse with a child. The murder was rather simple in itself as Quintero paniced in fear knowing the traffic stop would cause him to be deported, lose his family and change his world. Not premeditated, after all, how could someone premeditate a traffic stop.

Not premeditated, after all, how could someone premeditate a traffic stop!

Longhorn74 said...

What does that have to do with a lawyer providing a defense to a defendant?

If you think Quintero deserved the death penalty but someone on the jury did not then blame the prosecutors not the defense lawyer.

Have you ever heard of the Constitution? If I had have been on that jury I would probably have voted to put a needle in him.

So what? Neither you nor I were on that jury so the prosecutor, the cops and the jurors have to explain that verdict to Officer Johnson's family but certainly not Ms. Recer.

When I hear people attack defense lawyers for defending clients in criminal cases then I hear someone who neither believes in the Rule of Law nor the basic rights guaranteed by the founding fathers. I hear someone who would rather just do away with trials.

Bobby Mims

Anonymous said...

I don't think we were supposed to know that Quintero was in the country illegally. We weren't supposed to know that he had been deported to Mexico in 1999 for sexual abuse of a child. We weren't supposed to know the details of the crime.

To arouse our emotions, so much has to be hidden from us.