Posted on Thu, Oct. 25, 2007 E-filing urged for Death Row appeals
By APRIL CASTRO The Associated Press
The state's highest criminal court should accept all death-penalty filings by e-mail to help eliminate potentially deadly administrative delays, hundreds of the state's top defense lawyers said Wednesday in a petition asking that the Court of Criminal Appeals change its rules. The Texas court is one of the few in the nation that does not accept filings electronically. Calls to the court were not immediately returned.
The request comes after presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused to allow the court to stay open past 5 p.m., even though attorneys for Death Row inmate Michael Richard had called and asked for an extra 20 minutes to get their appeal to the court offices.
While other judges on the nine-member court waited after hours in anticipation of the appeal, Richard's attorneys had computer problems as they prepared an appeal in response to a U.S. Supreme Court announcement that justices would review the constitutionality of lethal injection. Their appeal never got to the court, and Richard was executed hours later.
"E-filing is just a small step to address our massively dysfunctional death-penalty system," Austin lawyer Chuck Herring said. "But it appears to be a step that would have prevented the wrongful execution of Mr. Richard on a day when he should have lived. This is a long-overdue step."
Richard, 49, has been the only person executed since the court made the announcement Sept. 25.
About 300 Texas lawyers signed the petition, including two former Texas Supreme Court justices and two former court of appeals justices.
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said Richard's life would probably have been extended if the court accepted electronic filings.
"It speaks to Judge Keller's leadership on the court that the lawyers of Texas had to take this step, that something as basic as this hasn't already been implemented by the court," Harrington said.
Harrington also represented several lawyers who filed a judicial conduct complaint against Keller this month, accusing her of violating Richard's rights.
The complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct says Keller improperly cut off appeals that led to the execution. Cases before the commission are confidential and will only become public if disciplinary action is taken. Investigations before the commission typically take several months.
Posts: 234 | Location: Texas | Registered: October 12, 2006
Don't death penalty opponents also argue that the delay in carrying out the execution violates the defendant's rights? Seems to me that puts the Court in quite an untennable position when it comes to setting deadlines.
Scylla meet Charybdis. You two work together, right?
And another thing, is the Judicial Condcut Commission really going to discipline a judge for enforcing a deadline?
[This message was edited by David Newell on 10-25-07 at .]
I wonder if this means we're on a path to get a "stay" answer from SCOTUS before we get SCOTUS's decision in Baze. I mean, how much of interjurisdictional bickering must there be before there's a tipping poing. In any case, this is from SCOTUSblog:
Controversy over lethal injection escalates
For the first time since the Supreme Court opened an inquiry into the constitutionality of the lethal injection method of executions, a federal appeals court has moved to review en banc the question of what lower courts should do about delaying death sentences in other states. A majority of the nine participating judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court based in Atlanta voted to rehear the state of Alabama�s request to go ahead with the execution of serial killer Daniel Lee Siebert. The actual vote was not disclosed.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit postponed Siebert�s execution, scheduled for Thursday evening. The panel did not give a full explanation of its reasons, simply noting that the Supeme Court was �presently considering the constitutionality of the challenge lethal injection protocol,� so, �accordingly,� it issued a stay of Siebert�s execution. It said the stay would remain in effect until the Supreme Court decided the issue in the Kentucky case of Baze v. Rees (07-5439).
But the en banc Circuit Court, with three of its judges not participating, said that one of its judges had asked that the Court be polled on the state�s petition for rehearing en banc, filed earlier Thursday. After a majority voted to do so, the Court nullified the panel order, but on its own reimposed a delay of the execution �pending further en banc consideration of this case.� The Court�s order can be found here.
One of the state�s arguments for proceeding with the execution is that it has altered the protocol to reduce the possibility that the three-chemical formula would result in severe pain and suffering to a dying inmate. The case is Siebert v. Allen (Circuit docket 07-14956(.
(Thanks to Howard Bashman of How Appealing blog for the alert to the Circuit Court�s new order.)