We really need to stop killing people…

Ξ November 30th, 2004 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Rants |

I am against the death penalty. I am not against it because I think it is wrong to take the life of miscreant who has slaughtered helpless folk. I am against it because time and again, I see evidence that the system is simply not working. It is a well known fact that eye witness identification is simply not accurate. It seems to me that the only true method is a freely given confession, or forensic evidence that is beyond reproach.
In the copyrighted online edition of today’s New York Times, there is an article the skewers the system in Texas which is widely known as the state that simply kills people left and right. The willy-nilly process used in Texas is clearly flawed. It further discusses the role of the Fifth Circuit Court (New Orleans) and their role in this folly. I am excerpting a small portion of what is there, but the whole article is worth the read. The online edition is free and only requires a registration.
Death Sentences in Texas Cases Try Supreme Court’s Patience

In the past year, the Supreme Court has heard three appeals from inmates on death row in Texas, and in each case the prosecutors and the lower courts suffered stinging reversals.
In a case to be argued on Monday, the court appears poised to deliver another rebuke.
Lawyers for a Texas death row inmate, Thomas Miller-El, will appear before the justices for the second time in two years. To legal experts, the Supreme Court’s decision to hear his case yet again is a sign of its growing impatience with two of the courts that handle death penalty cases from Texas: its highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans.
Perhaps as telling is the exasperated language in decisions this year from a Supreme Court that includes no categorical opponent of the death penalty. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in June that the Fifth Circuit was “paying lip service to principles” of appellate law in issuing death penalty rulings with “no foundation in the decisions of this court.”
In an unsigned decision in another case last month, the Supreme Court said the Court of Criminal Appeals “relied on a test we never countenanced and now have unequivocally rejected.” The decision was made without hearing argument, a move that ordinarily signals that the error in the decision under review was glaring.

Instead of considering much of the evidence recited by the Supreme Court majority, the appeals court engaged in something akin to plagiarism. In February, it again rejected Mr. Miller-El’s claims, in a decision that reproduced, virtually verbatim and without attribution, several paragraphs from the sole dissenting opinion in last year’s Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas.
“The Fifth Circuit just went out of its way to defy the Supreme Court on this,” said John J. Gibbons, a former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, who joined a brief supporting Mr. Miller-El. “The idea that the system can tolerate open defiance by an inferior court just cannot stand.”
The Supreme Court agrees to hear only about 80 cases each year. It seldom accepts cases to correct errors in the lower courts and concentrates instead on resolving conflicts among appeals courts and announcing broad legal principles. But in recent years the court has often found itself fixing problems in specific Texas death penalty cases. Over the last decade, it has ruled against prosecutors in all six appeals brought by inmates on death row in Texas.

The two appeals courts handle an enormous number of capital cases and grant relief in very few. Between 1995 and 2000, the Court of Criminal Appeals heard direct appeals in 270 death sentences and reversed eight times, according to a report by the Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit law firm that represents death row inmates. The reversal rate – 3 percent – is the lowest of any state. California, which has a much larger death row, at 635, has executed only 10 people since 1976, to Texas’s 336.
By contrast, a comprehensive study of almost 6,000 death sentences across the nation over the 20 years ended in 1995 found a 68 percent chance they would be overturned by a state or federal court.

“The Fifth Circuit does not understand that it is an inferior tribunal to the United States Supreme Court, and it acts lawlessly,” said Professor Dow, who was a law clerk to Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the Fifth Circuit in 1985 and 1986. Referring to the court’s critical role in several historic civil rights cases, he added, “If it acted this lawlessly in the 1960’s, black people and white people would still be eating at separate lunch counters.”

In another episode widely perceived as an embarrassment, Roy Criner, a prison inmate serving 99 years for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl that he insisted he had never committed, successfully petitioned for a DNA test not available during his trial. The test determined that the semen in the victim was not his. A second test produced the same result.

The trial court asked the criminal appeals court to order a new trial, but with Judge Keller prominently in the majority, it voted 6-3 to let the conviction stand. Gov. George W. Bush, then running for the White House, granted Mr. Criner clemency. “It’s pretty bad when you have to go to Governor Bush for relief,” said James Marcus, executive director of the Texas Defender Service.

At times the federal appeals court has been unfathomable to its critics. Last December, for instance, it considered the last-minute appeal of Billy Frank Vickers, scheduled to die for the killing of a grocer in 1993. With the inmate already given his last meal, the judges deliberated until 9 p.m. and announced they were leaving, with no decision. Bewildered state prison officials allowed the death warrant to expire, granting Mr. Vickers a delay. He was executed six weeks later.

In October, a Houston federal judge granted a last-minute stay to Dominique Green, but the state appealed. The Fifth Circuit then gave defense lawyers less than half an hour to file their response, Professor Dow said. A rushed brief was e-mailed to the court and turned down. The Supreme Court also rejected a stay, and Mr. Green was executed that night.

This article contains a lot more than what I have placed here, but the conclusion is clear to me. The death penalty process is really fucked up in Texas and a bunch of other states and until we either figure out a way to reverse the process, or until a fool proof system is used to hand out the death penalty, we simply need to stop killing these people.


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