Thursday, 5 April 2007

Targeting Death Penalty Appeals

Targeting Death Penalty Appeals

That's the title of a brief note in today's Austin American-Statesman reporting on SB 1655, approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee yesterday. LINK

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved a bill Tuesday aimed at correcting a system of poor legal representation in death penalty appeals.

Senate Bill 1655, by Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, would create an office of state-paid defense lawyers who would prepare writs of habeas corpus for indigent death row inmates.

The appeals are meant to challenge the validity of convictions by reinvestigating each case, but the American-Statesman found last year that many fall short of professional standards under the system run by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The office would cost an estimated $643,864 in 2008, up 29 percent from current costs.

The bill is supported by the State Bar of Texas, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Texas Defender Service.

"No one, be they for or against capital punishment, wants them put to death without competent counsel," Austin lawyer Martha Dickie, president of the state Bar, told the committee.

More information on SB 1655 is here. The Committee approved a committee substitute (CSSB 1655), and the text should be available shortly. You can watch the archived streaming video of the hearing here. Consideration of CSSB 1655 begins at exact 50 minutes into the hearing for those who want to fast forward.

Part of the impetus for the State Bar of Texas' involvement in improvements to state habeas representation was a result of reporting by Chuck Lindell of the American-Statesman (LINK) and Maro Robbins of the San Antonio Express-News (LINK). More on habeas issues is here.

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