Thursday, December 4, 2014

Update: 5th Circuit halts scheduled execution

Based on my specialized knowledge of this process, I now conclude that the death penalty as a form of punishment should be abolished because the execution of individuals does not appear to measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes served by the death penalty; the life without parole option adequately protects society at large in the same way as the death penalty punishment option; and the risk of executing an innocent person for a capital murder is unreasonably high, particularly in light of procedural-default laws and the prevalence of ineffective trial and initial habeas counsel. 
- Judge Tom Price, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Ex parte Panetti (No. WR-37,145-04)
Yesterday, just hours before he was scheduled to be murdered at the hands of the State of Texas, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals halted Scott Panetti's execution in order to review the legal claims made by his attorneys.

Last week the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Mr. Panetti's writ seeking to halt the scheduled execution. Judge Tom Price, who is retiring from the bench at the end of this term, wrote a dissenting opinion in which he questioned the value of the death penalty. He said it served no penal purpose. He also expressed his reservations on the death penalty in light of the number of exonerations that have taken place over the past few years.

But Judge Price is a little bit late to the dinner table. If his concerns are enough to motivate him to question the legitimacy of the death penalty at the end of his time on the bench, where were those concerns when Mr. Panetti's case came before the Court on direct appeal and on prior writ applications? Where were those concerns when other inmate's lives were on the line?

The one question I can't seem to get out of my head is why on earth the trial judge would allow a diagnosed schizophrenic to fire his appointed counsel and proceed to trial pro se. Even if the initial decision could be justified, once it became apparent that Mr. Panetti hadn't the slightest clue as to what was going on, counsel should have been appointed. We're talking about a man's life here. This isn't about moving a docket along.

If we are going to continue to try to take away people's lives in the courtroom, then we damn well better be sure every procedure is followed and every protective measure is taken with regard to the accused. Anything less just shows us to be a bunch of ignorant rednecks holding a noose in the courtyard square.

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