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January 2, 2005

Compelling capital work by federal district judges

With thanks to Howard Bashman at How Appealing and the PRACDL Blog for the tips, I can report on three compelling stories of federal district judges doing ground-breaking work in capital cases:

1.  From Houston, US District Judge Vanessa Gilmore is making news in an alien smuggling case in which defendant Tyrone Williams has alleged racial discrimination.  As previously noted in this post, Judge Gilmore had demanded the government to explain in writing why it sought the death penalty only against Williams.  Last week, as detailed in this article, when prosecutors ignored the order to provide this information, Judge Gilmore said she would allow attorneys defending Williams to use the government's refusal as evidence during the trial's penalty phase. 

Now from Howard Bashman here, we hear the Fifth Circuit has granted prosecutors' motion for a stay of all proceedings while it considers a motion for a writ of mandamus. The expedited briefing schedule ensures that this case will be another of the many capital cases to watch in January (and the Grits Blog is already on the job with this commentary on the Williams case). 

2.  From Boston, US District Judge Nancy Gertner has now supplemented her amazing ruling in US v. Green, 2004 WL 2475483 (D. Mass. Nov. 03, 2004) (first discussed here), where she held in a federal capital case that she "will impanel two different juries, if necessary, for each death-eligible defendant, one jury to determine guilt or innocence and the other to reject or to impose the death penalty."  Provided here at the PRACDL Blog are Judge Gertner's interesting supplemental findings in support of her bifurcation decision.

3.  From New York, US District Judge Jed Rakoff is still making headlines here in the New York Times for his 2002 ruling in US v. Quinones that the federal death penalty is unconstitutional because of the risk of executing innocent persons.  The NY Times article recounts Judge Rakoff's compelling professional and personal backstory, and Howard Bashman here provides links to both Judge Rakoff's Quinones decision and the Second Circuit's reversal of that decision.  (Also TalkLeft adds some commentary here.)

January 2, 2005 at 01:23 PM | Permalink


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