Thursday, July 21, 2011

Without a leg to stand on

The State of Texas finally got around to killing Mark Stroman at 8:53pm last night. But it was not without a fight.

Rais Bhuiyan filed suit to halt the execution claiming that he had a right under the Texas Crime Victims' Bill of Rights to demand a mediation with Mr. Stroman - and that the state had denied him that right. First a federal judge denied Mr. Bhuyian's request on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to stay an execution under Section 1983. That decision was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Then, minutes before the scheduled execution, Mr. Bhuyian filed suit in Travis County District Court. That court also denied Mr. Bhuyian's request for a stay.

Mr. Bhuyian argued that the Texas Crime Victims' Bill of Rights (Article 56.02 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure) gave him the right, as a crime victim, to demand a mediation with Mr. Stroman. He claimed that by executing Mr. Stroman before he had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Stroman violated his civil rights.

While the courts never ruled on it, my question is did Mr. Bhuyian have standing to bring suit in this matter. Mr. Stroman was convicted of murdering Vasudev Patel. He was never tried for the attempted murder of Mr. Bhuyian. Since he was never tried, the state never proved he shot Mr. Bhuyian in the face. In other words, there is no legal basis upon which Mr. Bhuyian can claim to be a victim since there was no crime.

As such, Mr. Bhuyian has no rights under the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights. Hence, he has no standing to bring suit.

But this brings us to another question. Art. 56.02(a)(12) states that a crime victim, or close relative of a crime victim has:
the right to request victim-offender mediation coordinated by the victim services division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
According to Art. 56.01(1), a "close relative" is
a person who was the spouse of a deceased victim at the time of the victim's death or who is a parent or adult brother, sister, or child of the deceased victim.
Does this mean that each of those persons has the right to request victim-offender mediation? Does this mean that any of those persons could file suit to halt an execution because they wanted to mediate but were not provided the opportunity to do so?

The Crime Victims' Bill of Rights was passed as a reaction to public criticism of the court's actually enforcing the rights of the accused. As with much legislation enacted in an attempt to curry favor with the public, it's just plain bad law.

As distasteful as it might seem to some, it's the accused who is entitled to protection against the power of the state. A defendant's constitutional rights stem from the presumption of innocence and the desire to limit the powers of the state. It should be difficult for the state to obtain a conviction. The defendant should be entitled to every benefit of the doubt. The so-called crime victims movement is nothing but an attempt to undo the constitutional protections afforded to a criminal defendant.

Defendants are not always the nicest of people. They are often accused of heinous acts. But that doesn't change the fact that they are innocent unless proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. If you take away those protections from the people who are alleged to have committed the most heinous acts, it's only a matter of time before you start taking away those protections from everybody else.

When a person is accused of a crime, the plaintiff is not the alleged victim - the plaintiff is the State of Texas. In a criminal prosecution, the State of Texas is seeking to exact punishment on a person who violated the laws of the State of Texas. The alleged victim is but the complaining witness - not a party.

And that, I think, is the ultimate problem in this case -- Mr. Bhuyian is not a victim and lacked standing to halt the execution of Mr. Stroman.

As ill-conceived a piece of legislation as the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights is, if it can be used to frustrate the state's attempts to murder an individual, then I'm all for it.

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