April 27, 2010 Leave a comment
From what I've seen of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest court in Texas for criminal cases, the Texas Supreme Court only handles civil cases), they might as well be the highest court in some totalitarian dictatorship. When discussing 8th amendment rights to a competent counsel, I always enjoy telling my classes about the case in which this court found a narcoleptic, drug-addicted defense attorney (yes, he was either high or sleeping through the whole trial) to have provided effective counsel. This present case, described by Slate's Dahlia Lithwick may be even worse. Don't think the US Supreme Court looks so hot in this one, either, by refusing to take the case. Anyway, the key points:
When the U.S. Supreme Court denied Charles Dean Hood's appeal last week, it was done
in a one-sentence, unsigned order. Hood is a Texas death-row inmate who
was convicted of murdering two people in 1990. Long after the conclusion
of the trial, it became clear that his trial judge and prosecutor had
been secretly involved in a years-long extramarital affair. Because they
were both married, they denied the affair—even to Hood's death-penalty
lawyers. After the clandestine relationship finally came to light, the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Hood's challenge in two curt
sentences last September, finding that his lawyers had waited too long
to raise the issue on appeal. How Hood was to have raised the conflict
of interest when the existence of the affair was not conclusively
established until 2008, when the judge and prosecutor were forced to
admit it under oath, is not explained.
Hood has already been granted a new sentencing hearing because the Texas
appeals court has acknowledged that the jury instructions were
improper, but prosecutors say they will again seek the death penalty. In
any event, resentencing Hood doesn't resolve the fundamental problem
with the case. The issue here is whether any reasonable person would
believe that a criminal trial at which one's prosecutor and judge are
secretly in love could ever be fair. And that's the issue the courts
keep refusing to address.
Whenever discussing federalism and the important differences between states in my classes, one question I always ask, "would you rather be accused of murder in Texas or Minnesota?" Nobody ever chooses Texas. For damn good reason.