Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Lethal mix: Lawyers’ mistakes, unforgiving law

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A good longread by Ken Armstrong of the Marshall Project:

In 1992, Kenneth Rouse, an African American man with an IQ between 70 and 80 — “borderline intellectual functioning,” in the clinical parlance — prepared to stand trial in North Carolina on charges that he had robbed, murdered and attempted to rape a white, 63-year-old store clerk.

Rouse’s lawyers questioned the prospective jurors to try to expose any racial or other bias they might have against the defendant. But several years after the all-white jury convicted Rouse and recommended a death sentence, his defense team made a stunning discovery.

One of the jurors, Joseph S. Baynard, admitted that his mother had been robbed, murdered and possibly raped years before. Baynard had not disclosed this history, he said, so that he could sit in judgment of Rouse, whom he called “one step above a moron.” Baynard, who used a racial slur when referring to African Americans, added that he thought black men raped white women for bragging rights.

As claims of juror bias go, the evidence could hardly have been stronger. But Rouse’s final appeal was never heard. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Rouse’s lawyers had just one year after his initial state appeal to petition for a last-resort hearing in federal court.

They missed the deadline by a single day.

A federal appeals judge wrote that it was “unconscionable” for her court to reject Rouse’s case because of such a mistake by his court-appointed lawyers. But dozens of lawyers have made the same mistake, and most of their clients, like Rouse, have not been forgiven by the courts for missing the deadline.

An investigation by The Marshall Project shows that since President Bill Clinton signed the one-year statute of limitations into law — enacting a tough-on-crime provision that emerged in the Republicans’ Contract with America — the deadline has been missed at least 80 times in capital cases. Sixteen of those inmates have since been executed — the most recent was on Thursday, when Chadwick Banks was put to death in Florida.​

By missing the filing deadline, those inmates have usually lost access to habeas corpus, arguably the most critical safeguard in the United States’ system of capital punishment. “The Great Writ,” as it is often called (in Latin it means “you have the body”), habeas corpus allows prisoners to argue in federal court that the conviction or sentence they received in a state court violates federal law.

For example, of the 12 condemned prisoners who have left death row in Texas after being exonerated since 1987, five of them were spared in federal habeas corpus proceedings. In California, 49 of the 81 inmates who had completed their federal habeas appeals by earlier this year have had their death sentences vacated.

The prisoners who missed their habeas deadlines have sometimes forfeited powerful claims. Some of them challenged the evidence of their guilt, and others the fairness of their sentences. One Mississippi inmate was found guilty partly on the basis of a forensic hair analysis that the FBI now admits was flawed. A prisoner in Florida was convicted with a type of ballistics evidence that has long since been discredited.

Just last month, Mark Christeson, a Missouri inmate whose lawyers missed the habeas deadline in 2005, received a stay of execution from the Supreme Court just hours before he was set to die by lethal injection.

In a court brief filed on Christeson’s behalf, 15 former state and federal judges emphasized that he had not even met the appellate attorneys handling his federal case until after the filing deadline had passed. “Cases, including this one, are falling through the cracks of the system,” they wrote. “And when the stakes are this high, such failures unacceptably threaten the very legitimacy of the judicial process.” . . .

Continue reading.

And take a look at other reports by the Marshall Project.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2014 at 8:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

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