"If we can't play by my rules, I'm taking my ball and going home."
Sounds like pretty childish, doesn't it? Well that's just what Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos ordered her prosecutors to do this week in the 177th. Instead of arguing in favor of the state's application of the death penalty, Ms. Lykos and her minions decided it was more appropriate to play games.
"We still respectfully refuse to participate in the proceeding, your honor." Assistant Harris County District Attorney Alan CurryThe hearing in Judge Fine's court is to determine whether or not the application of the death penalty in Texas violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The attorneys for Mr. John Green, the man facing capital murder charges, are challenging the application of the death penalty on the grounds that state-sponsored murder violates the Constitution in that the state has murdered innocent people - despite supposed safeguards to prevent the ultimate miscarriage of justice.
One of the primary arguments of the DA's Office is that Mr. Green's claims aren't ripe since he hasn't been convicted of anything, much less sentenced to die. After refusing to participate in the hearing on Monday, prosecutors filed a petition with the Court of Criminal Appeals seeking a stay of the hearing. If Mr. Green's claim isn't ripe, the state's claim is picking at the same fruit on the tree as Judge Fine has yet to issue any rulings in the hearing.
Despite prosecutor's claims to the contrary, Mr. Green's claim is ripe for the picking due to the method by which Texas mandates juries are selected in capital cases. The qualifying questions that are asked of the jurors in a capital case (almost) assure a jury panel that is more likely to convict that a panel in any other type of case. And, since death is an option for the jury in a capital case, the question of whether or not the death penalty, as currently administered in Texas, is constitutional is of the utmost import.
In a capital case, jurors are asked whether they could impose the death penalty upon a conviction. Anyone who says they can't is excused from the panel - thereby assuring a panel that is statistically more likley to impose death. That alone changes the entire dynamic at trial.
A man's life may be on the line and the district attorney's office is playing games. So much for "seeking justice."
"Green hearing shutting down for now," Simple Justice, December 8, 2010
"Mandamus in John Green case," Defending People, December 7, 2010
"In Texas case questioning death penalty, prosecutors ordered to stay silent," Alternet, December 7, 2010
"Prosecutors 'stand mute' in unusual death-penalty hearing," Yahoo! News, December 7, 2010