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December 6, 2010

Early report on the death penalty on trial in Texas

As detailed in this new Reuters piece, a "Houston judge on Monday began a hearing on the legality of the death penalty in Texas, which executes more convicts than any other U.S. state."  Here are more early details of what appears to be something of a show trial that is already garnering a lot of media attention:

John Green, 25, is awaiting trial after being charged with murdering a woman during a robbery in Houston in 2008. He says he is innocent.

His lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of Texas' death penalty, claiming that there is a high probability of wrongful convictions and executions under current trial rules. Their effort is predicated on Texas rules that allow defendants to challenge the legality of potential punishments even before trial begins.

The state has executed 464 inmates over the last three decades -- far more than any other U.S. state. But death penalty opponents cite two prominent Texas cases in which significant exculpatory evidence has come to light years after inmates' sentences were carried out.

During roughly two weeks of testimony, state District Judge Kevin Fine will hear arguments from prominent death penalty opponents, who will shine a spotlight on the legal processes and evidentiary support used in Texas' capital punishment trials, which critics say are error-prone....

County prosecutors said they will "stand mute" during the hearing, after citing 19 reasons why it should not proceed. Prosecutor Alan Curry told Judge Fine he would "respectfully refuse to participate" in the hearing. Fine later told Curry, "I expect your participation."

Fine evoked the ire of Texas Governor Rick Perry in March when he granted a request by Green's lawyers to declare the state's death penalty as unconstitutional, a common request in capital murder cases that Texas judges routinely deny. Fine rescinded the ruling after pointing to evidence that "we execute innocent people," and called for the hearing.

Fine is a Democrat who presides in Harris County, which has sentenced more prisoners to death than any other Texas county. Texas is a predominantly Republican state where support for the death penalty runs high.

December 6, 2010 at 09:37 PM | Permalink


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The rate of innocence is a pretext. It is a form of bad faith. Bad faith makes Judge Fine's hearing unethical. I call for a Judicial Review Board investigation of his hearing.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 6, 2010 10:32:50 PM

Is imprisonment in the Green case also to be forbidden on the (massively better documented) theory that other defendants in unrelated cases were unjustly imprisoned?

It would seem to me that whether X punishment is Constitutionally acceptable in Green's case depends solely on whether GREEN'S guilt is conclusively established, not on whether Smith or Jones' guilt was (or wasn't). If Green's guilt is established in a way no serious person could doubt, then to nullify a legal punishment is HIS case because of questions raised about DIFFERENT cases has to be the definition of irrationality. It has exactly the same "logic" as grounding your 16 year-old because, when he was 12, HIS SISTER took the car without permission.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 7, 2010 3:53:45 AM

"The rate of innocence is a pretext." - for an innocent victim of execution, their family and friends, and those who genuinely believe in the sanctity of life, there is no rate of execution of the innocent by the state, other than zero, which is acceptable. The Constitution was written to protect the rights and life of every American citizen. Whether in this context that is explicit or inferred makes no difference. The aims of civilized law can be met today without resort to execution.

Posted by: peter | Dec 7, 2010 3:59:16 AM

Peter:What of the 40,000 innocent victims literally butchered by metal on our roads? Shouldn't all modes of transportation be suspended until the problem of the innocent is solved, including walking, the number of pedestrian deaths far exceeding the number of executions? What about suspending smoking? It kills 400,000 innocent people a year, with the guaranteed 100% foreseeability of planetary orbits. All human activities have error rates. Topick on the error rate of one, falsely killing 40 people a year while allowing another to kill 400,000 is bad faith, and a false use of the law (a pretext).

The problem of the innocence rate is solved by 123D. Even if greatly mistaken, the executed prisoner is a bad guy that needed to go. There may be seemingly anomalous results under 123D. A drug kingpin who has murdered hundreds may be executed after a shoplifting charge if number 3. A murderer who is a normal person, with a clean record may go home. The repetition of violent crime is the qualifier.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 7, 2010 5:14:14 AM

"The repetition of violent crime is the qualifier."
It qualifies only for the necessary punishment and detention needed in the 21st Century to serve the protection of the public. You have plenty of exemplars throughout the US, Europe and other places to more than adequately demonstrate that.
Your comparative example of transportation is of course irrelevant and totally incomparable. The nature of execution is planned and certain; transportation systems and infrastructure provide environments that we may choose to utilize, as is smoking etc.
We improve transportation systems to minimize risks. We can do better with the life of people directly under the control of the state.

Posted by: peter | Dec 7, 2010 5:30:58 AM

Is this Judge Fine the jurist who was on Night Court years ago?

Posted by: DaveP | Dec 7, 2010 7:35:45 AM

We need some consistency from the abolitionists, or else, they are hypocrites. All human activities have an error rate and damaging side effects. One may not object to the 40 people falsely executed a year, demanding an end to the death penalty, without demanding the same ending to transportation, killing 40,000, and smoking, killing 400,000 a year. The abolitionist is picking on the error rate as a justification for ending the entire activity, when that is not done with any other useful activity. One has to conclude, the objection is pretextual, which is bad faith. The lie is stop it for the error rate, but the truth is, stop it because of our emotional, irrational objection and distaste for the death penalty.

Peter, here is a challenge for you. Utter the V word without sputtering and choking. You can't. You are not even a real abolitionist. You are a big government advocate protecting a commodity, the murderer, who generates much government make work. The victim generates nothing for the government dependent lawyer, and may rot.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 7, 2010 7:57:00 AM

Supremacy - An innocent victim of state execution is every bit a VICTIM of murder. An innocent wife, mother, father, son, and daughter is every bit a VICTIM as the relatives of a murdered person. Your narrow categorization of a VICTIM shows just how obsessive you have become about the need for execution. Most pro dp supporters would, I hope, at least regret the passing of another life ... but you and some others celebrate it, regardless of the collatoral suffering it causes, or the risk of error. Your rant about big government is hot air. There is no more politically influenced issue that distorts and stifles the much needed reform of criminal law than the death penalty. Justice comes from the exercise of wisdom, not from the ballot box.

Posted by: peter | Dec 7, 2010 11:08:43 AM

Peter: There is no intent to kill an innocent person. There is a mistake that kills the innocent person, as if hit by a car. The term should not be murder, but wrongful death. The remedy should not be abolition, like stopping all transportation, but torts litigation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 8, 2010 2:07:14 PM

Supremacy - I think you will find that whilst in a traffic accident, it may be possible to enforce accountability by this means, that option is not available to wrongful execution .... all principal players are immune from prosecution, and therefore unaccountable. Even if it was possible, a family who could not afford to hire the services of an experienced and effective private attorney for the innocent accused would scarcely be in a position to hire one for the purposes you suggest. If you know of any attorneys willing to take it on for free, let me know!
And of course, it is the state which permits such error-prone and risky death penalty legislation in the first place .... not an individual making a mistake on the highway.

Posted by: peter | Dec 9, 2010 6:40:11 AM

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