Archive for the ‘Capital Punishment’ category

Executing Child Molesters

May 23, 2007

I wondered why this old post discussing Troy King’s plan to extend the death penalty to child molesters received a spike in traffic the last two days. It’s because in that post I also discussed the first court test of such a law, and yesterday that court – the Louisiana Supremes – upheld it, affirming a death sentence for Patrick O. Kennedy, who was convicted of raping his eight year old step-daughter.

I have not read the opinion yet (which you can find here), but it doesn’t matter what it says. This is almost certainly going to Scotus. Well, to Justice Kennedy; everyone already knows exactly how all the other Justices will rule, so every brief will essentially be written to him. What will he do? Like I said in the earlier post, I’m betting he says it’s unconstitutional. I just can’t see the guy who authored the abominably bad Roper decision voting to expand the death penalty.

And if he does strike it down, that’s fine with me. Not because I care about the substantive issue, but because outside of Steve Spurrier (and maybe Baghdad Bob), no-one is more entertaining in defeat that Justice Scalia.


Afternoon Updates

May 15, 2007

First, the Decatur Daily reports today:

Three former Alabama Supreme Court justices are asking the country’s highest court to hear the case of Alabama death row inmates who say they don’t have adequate legal representation, but the state is arguing the inmates’ claim is “a work of fiction.”

I explained here that Alabama does an extremely bad job of providing attorneys to convicts on death row. Basically, if those folks want an appointed attorney, they have to first convince a judge that they have a valid claim. Stating a valid claim, though, requires extensive investigation, legal research and writing; in other words, stating a valid claim requires a lawyer. So, as the Tuscaloosa News put it today:

Inmates who are condemned to die have to convince a judge that they need legal representation to protect their rights and to prove that they have a substantial claim for an appeal.

But a suit filed by six death row inmates says they can’t make those cases effectively without an attorney. There’s a circular quality to their argument. They need a lawyer to convince a judge that they need a lawyer.

So the state is just wrong when it says that Alabama provides indigent capital defendants lawyers for post-conviction proceedings. That said, the state is going to win the lawsuit. No way is Scotus going to force the state to set up some kind of indigent program for post-conviction proceedings.

Second, the B’ham City counsel – only a few weeks after several members proudly declared their ignorance and homophobia – has just voted to adopt a new version of a resolution condemning, among other things, homophobia. An official declaration that gays are something other than the cause of the end of the world? Jerry Falwell must be spinning in his grave. Or wherever he is.

Third, once a terrorist, always a terrorist:

Victims of Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion extremist who pulled off a series of bombings across the South, say he is taunting them from deep within the nation’s most secure federal prison, and authorities say there is little they can do to stop him.

Apparently, he’s writing nasty stories and sending them to fans who publish them on the web. He’s been doing so for quite a while; here’s my post on a similar report from a few months ago. Whether or not the prison authorities can prohibit the letters, like I said in the earlier post, the letters certainly justify Rudolph’s continued stay in a SuperMax prison.

Finally, a case I mentioned here is about to climax:

The owner of an adult store in Decatur launched her final appeal Monday against a state ban on selling sex toys, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the law as an unconstitutional intrusion into the bedroom.

Alabama’s Mike Nifong

May 8, 2007

I first posted about him here. Today, the Decatur Daily has an update.

In a nut shell, back in 2005, Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska – the chief of Troy King’s violent crimes division – knowingly hid favorable evidence from the defense and then lied about it to the court. When the truth was revealed, the judge responded by dismissing the state’s case. Alacrap reversed that action, but still granted the defendant a new trial.

So now Valeska is whining that the judge is biased. Right. Here’s some of the judge’s response:

“He can lie to me personally all he wants, but I will not allow him to lie to the court,” [Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn] Thompson stated in a response he filed with the state Court of Criminal Appeals.

Thompson explained.

“Throughout the trial of the case, the defense counsel repeatedly requested that they be given access to material collected by the Decatur Police Department and submitted to the FBI, as well as any information provided by the FBI to the Decatur Police Department. Knowing full well that his representations to the Circuit Court of Morgan County were untrue, Mr. Valeska repeatedly represented that no such material existed,” Thompson’s response states. . . .

The judge explained his position on dismissing the capital murder charges against Moore.

“This court found that the actions of Assistant Attorney General Valeska representing the state of Alabama were so egregious that the only appropriate remedy under the law and the facts was to dismiss the charges pending against the defendant.” . . .

Also, Thompson commented on Valeska’s courtroom behavior.

“He refused to turn off his cell phone and after warning, allowed his cell phone to ring in court repeatedly,” Thompson stated. “It is my recollection, although I am not certain of the exact number, that on at least six occasions Mr. Valeska’s cell phone rang in open court. This court refrained from finding him in contempt although after each session he was repeatedly warned not to allow his cell phone to ring in court.”

Thompson further stated in his response that Valeska would be treated fairly in his courtroom during Moore’s second trial.

“I can assure the Court of Criminal Appeals that Mr. Valeska, if he appears for the re-trial of Mr. Moore, has nothing to fear from this court so long as he tells the whole truth without parsing words and turns off his cell phone,” Thompson stated. “Not only will the state of Alabama get a fair trial but the defendant will also get a fair trial.”

Biased? Only against attorneys so confident in the righteousness of their position that they think they can lie, cheat, or steal in order to win a case.

House Upholds Important Judicial Campaign Tool

April 27, 2007

Story here:

The state House of Representatives on Thursday rejected a bill that would have let juries, not judges, decide whether people convicted of capital murder should be put to death or serve life in prison without parole.

Under current law, juries give advisory verdicts in capital cases, but judges can override.

If a jury recommends the death penalty, a judge can impose a sentence of life in prison without parole. If a jury recommends life in prison without parole, a judge can impose a death sentence.

What the story does not mention is that when judges use override, nine times out of ten they use it to reject the jury’s life recommendation and impose a death sentence.

Whether or not to impose a death sentence is a serious question, one that ought to be answered by a person who is completely free of any outside influences. In a state that chooses judges through partisan elections, that person is not the judge.

That Ignorant Barbarians Support The Death Penalty . . .

April 25, 2007

Does not mean supporting the death penalty makes you an ignorant barbarian. 

But thanks anyway Mr. Bruton for giving the bloodthirsty and foolish among us – i.e. Troy King, vel sim – a great way to caricature anyone who wants to reform Alabama’s death penalty system. Henceforth, anyone who questions it as it stands will be labelled as some kind of America-Hating, One-World-Government-Loving, Tea-Sipping, European Sissy Pants. Go back to Europe and preen, please.

Indigent Defense In Capital Cases

January 30, 2007

The Tuscaloosa News has had two recent articles (here, and here) discussing Alabama’s death penalty system. They don’t say anything new, really, but are worth emphasizing.

Basically, both articles discuss the inadequate manner in which Alabama provides defense attorneys in capital cases and the ways in which that problem is exasperated by the manner in which Alabama appoints lawyers for appeals.

The first thing to get straight is that if there is a systematic failure to provide adequate attorneys, that would be a major problem. Our legal system is adversarial. We trust that if both sides have an equal opportunity to argue their case that the truth will be the result. But if one side is somehow prevented from adequately presenting its case, then the system won’t work properly. The decision-maker (the jury) will only hear one side of the story. Maybe that side was the right one, maybe not, no-one will ever know because no-one ever heard the other side. The important thing is to make sure that both sides are fully and vigorously presented.

So the question becomes whether or not Alabama has failed to ensure that the defense’s side is adequately presented. That seems to be the common wisdom, and my experience confirms it. We’ve handled several post-conviction cases where trial counsel was obviously unprepared.

That is not to say the attorneys were bad attorneys. They may have been excellent attorneys. But trying a capital case requires an enormous amount of resources. The attorney has to be an obstructionist; she has to raise every possible argument against every move by the state. At the same time, the defense attorney needs to know everything about the client, and also needs to know the significance for trial of everything about the client. That requires investigations and experts. It is very expensive to properly try a capital case.  

Alabama, though, pays defense counsel forty dollars an hour for out of court work and sixty dollars an hour for in court work. As for experts, you’ve got to go beg the judge for extra funds. In order to adequately defend the capital case, the attorney needs to dedicate a huge portion of his time to it, and at those rates, that just is not possible. The result is cut-rate defenses.  

I do not think the solution is better pay. Rather, it would be to establish a centralized group whose only job is defending capital cases. Then the attorneys will not only have the expertise to properly defend, but they will have all the time and resources they need to carry out that defense. They won’t have to worry about bringing in enough money to pay for secretaries, and electricity, and still put food on their tables.

The Tuscaloosa News has another article discussing how this type of program has worked in Georgia:

Firefighters pulled four charred bodies out of the wood clapboard flophouse on Troup Street in/sValdosta, Ga., after a white-hot blaze in October 2005 melted windows up and down the block and left the house a smoldering heap.

Within hours, Cynthia Allen was arrested for setting the fire and thrown in jail.

Georgia prosecutors soon will present a jury with a simple argument: She did it. She must die.

It would be an easy case if it weren’t for Boyd Young and his colleagues. They intend to make the jury’s choice — life or death — much more difficult.

As Allen’s lawyers, they’ve spent months combing through the wreckage of her life, trying to follow clues that might demystify her behavior.

What explains the vacant look in Allen’s eyes, and her tendency to answer the simplest questions with rambling incoherence? Is there more to the stories in Valdosta/sthat cast Allen as an aggrieved tenant of the flophouse and a constant target of violent physical and mental abuse?

These hints point toward a dreadful existence for Allen, stretching as far back as her childhood in a dangerous New Orleans housing project.

Chasing down those clues is taking Young and his colleagues on an arduous and emotional journey through a world thick with poverty, dysfunction and tragedy.

They’ve essentially become Allen’s biographers, documenting every important facet of her life and preparing to explain it — and why it matters — to a jury.

This is how they’ll defend her, because it’s the only choice they have.

“Cynthia is just not somebody who belongs on death row, not even close,” Young said. “That’s what we’ve got to prove.”

This is the new face of capital defense in Georgia.

Allen’s lawyers work for the Office of the Georgia Capital Defenders, a state-funded, centralized operation of well-trained lawyers and investigators who were assembled in 2005 to handle nothing but the state’s death penalty cases.

In each case, the office assigns at least two attorneys and a full-time investigator. One attorney is on staff; the other is typically a private practice lawyer from the town where the case is being tried.

They spend what’s necessary. They do what’s necessary. They work every case as if it were their only one. . . .

Their record: 23-0.

Some may object to this because it means fewer executions. There is no point arguing with a person who raises that objection.

Others may question the cost of such an office. To that, I say I do not know. The state would no longer be spending money on individual appointments. It would also save on appellate litigation, as the better representation at trial will make the appeals much less complicated. But I’m sure the expenses would exceed these savings. So the question becomes how much we are willing to spend to make sure the death penalty is fairly administered?

By fairly administered, I don’t mean simply making sure we don’t kill innocent people. I mean making sure we kill only people who are guilty and who truly deserve to die. When Alabama executes someone, that person’s blood is on all of our hands. I, for one, am willing to pay a fairly high price to make sure that blood is justified.

More Capital Punishment News

January 18, 2007

The ACS blog highlights this article by Alabama attorney Bryan Stevenson:

One day, the fog of fear and anger will lift enough in America for capital punishment to be abolished. Perhaps on this clearer day, we’ll reconcile our rhetoric about human rights and compassion with mass incarceration, torture and excessive punishment. Maybe we will reject the arrogance that justifies executions simply because our government believes it has the power to kill. Most likely, an improved climate will expose the bizarre bureaucracy of state-sanctioned killing as an unreliable, inaccurate and profoundly unfair system that is simply too costly and burdensome to continue. However the day comes—and it will come—I hope we get there soon. The longer we tolerate the mistakes, discrimination and abuse of power that characterize the modern death penalty, the more we sustain a legacy of indecent brutality that compromises the evolution of human rights in this country and around the world.

He makes valid points, but I also think he overstates his case. I disagree, for example, with his statement that “Killing someone to prove that killing is wrong is the illogical, ill-conceived response of people who have power but no vision.” I have no qualms with the principle of penalizing death with death. Some crimes are so heinous that the only appropriate response is death, and it if anyone is “illogical” it is the person who invokes platitudes about human dignity in order to save a person who has just demonstrated the ultimate contempt for human dignity by committing murder. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.

That said, if all I knew about the death penalty was that Bryan Stevenson opposed it and Troy King supported it, I would be in the prohibition camp.