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November 1, 2009

Mississippi Supreme Court looking into capital case delays

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "Death row case delays flagged," the Mississippi Supreme Court is trying to figure out why a number of state capital cases are stuck in the post-conviction appeal pipeline.  Here is how the piece begins:

The Mississippi Supreme Court has asked trial judges why they have not ruled on post-conviction claims of nine death row inmates.  At least four of the cases involve claims of mental disability.

The Supreme Court issued the orders Thursday. The justices said they want to know what is taking so long on the cases and if they should force on the trial judges a timetable to render decisions. In a post-conviction petition, an inmate argues he has found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

"The Court has undertaken a systematic review of all pending post-conviction death penalty cases and has sought information on the status of cases for which there appears to be a lack of activity," Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said.  He said the reviews will continue. "We will systematically review the status of death penalty post-conviction cases ... to assure that the fair and efficient administration of justice is being carried out.

This story provides a useful reminder of the fact that capital case delays can often be the result of actions by foot-dragging lower courts (or even prosecutors); they are not produced soley by just death row defendants and their defense attorneys (though I suspect many defendants do not much mind such delays).

November 1, 2009 at 12:38 PM | Permalink


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Solely! Ha. This reminds me of several cases where a defendant's convictions were overturned multiple times, leading to multiple capital trials at the taxpayers' expense, and the State had the gall to blame the *defendant* for the fact that it struck every black or brown person from the jury, suppressed evidence, presented every bad thing the defendant ever did to the jury in a campaign of character assasination, etc.

The vast majority of delay in capital cases --- at least in the death belt states --- has at its root the jankety-ass, inadequate concept of due process that pervails in these jurisdictions. If the State would just do it right the first time (including locating and paying adequate defense counsel), it would be quicker and cheaper for everyone. (Although they might have a few more lesser-included verdicts, LWOP verdicts, or, occassionally, flat out acquittals.) Instead, they prefer to do it on the cheap, perhaps hoping the lawyers they provide are so bad that they can sweep most of their mistakes under the rug of procedural default, and then, if that doesn't work, blame the defendant if the process is still ongoing 20 years later.


Posted by: anon | Nov 2, 2009 10:24:09 AM

personally i think timelimits to render a decision is a good thing and should apply to ALL JUDGES right up to the supreme court i'm sure it's never been documents but i'd be willing to bet that if someone went and looked there are 1,000's of decisions out there that have not been decided and have been waiting for a decsion for years.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Nov 2, 2009 4:45:30 PM

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