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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Utah will keep the death penalty after all

Utah Senate
An unexpectedly potent push to abolish Utah’s death penalty came up short this week, and the practice remained on the books as the state’s legislative session wrapped up.

A bill that would have scrapped capital punishment in cherry-red Utah made it through the Utah state Senate earlier this month and, earlier this week, also passed a key committee in the state’s House of Representatives. It was a surprisingly strong showing for such a proposal given that just last year, Utah lawmakers took an unusual step and expanded the state’s death penalty.

But with the legislative session ending Thursday night, legislators in the state House had a limited window to vote on the proposal. Ultimately, the bill was kicked back to the state Senate without a vote after the state senator who sponsored it determined it didn’t have the votes yet and that he needed more time to convince people who were on the fence.

“I can’t say that the bill is totally a victim of the clock, but you know, if we had another week or so, it would be interesting to see what would have happened,” Utah state Sen. Steve Urquhart (R) told the Associated Press.

It was unclear what would have happened if the state House approved the bill, as Gov. Gary. R. Herbert (R) remains a supporter of the death penalty. However, earlier this month a spokesman for Herbert reiterated that support and added that the governor “has concerns over the excessive length of time it often takes from the date of conviction to the actual punishment.”

The support from lawmakers in Utah showed that it is “unmistakable that an increasing number of conservative Republicans in Utah, like those in Nebraska, are realizing that the death penalty is irrevocably broken,” Marc Hyden, national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement. He added: “Conservatives are increasingly taking the lead to end the death penalty precisely because of our conservative principles.”

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Source: The Washington Post, Mark Berman, March 11, 2016

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