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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…

State Senators and Retired District Judge: In Nebraska, sentence of life imprisonment means life without parole

Death penalty supporters attempting to confuse voters

Lincoln, NE - At news conferences in Lincoln and Omaha today, Republican and Democratic State Senators and a retired District Court Judge all agreed that the law replacing the death penalty with mandatory sentence of life in prison means those inmates will spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

State Senator Colby Coash, a member of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee who successfully help lead the effort to change the law and end Nebraska’s death penalty, said the bill passed last year, with 16 Republican votes, 13 Democratic votes, and 1 Independent vote, replaced the death penalty with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

“In Nebraska a sentence of life imprisonment means life without parole. The legislature examined life imprisonment extensively for years and we are crystal clear that we have a strong life sentence that guarantees those with that sentence die in prison,” Coash said.

Senator Coash pointed out that last May, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson affirmed Nebraska law by issuing a Legal Opinion on the issue.

“Under current Nebraska law, a sentence of life imprisonment is effectively life imprisonment without parole". Attorney General Doug Peterson, May 5, 2015

Senator Adam Morfeld, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said those who want to bring back the death penalty are attempting to confuse voters by suggesting those sentenced to life will be able to get out.

“You will hear those who want to keep the death penalty say that if we get rid of it, people are going to get out. This is simply untrue. With a sentence of life imprisonment, a person can not be released,” Morfeld said.

“There is a constitutional right in Nebraska for the Board of Pardons to commute a sentence to something lesser. However, the possibility that those three elected officials would commute a life sentence for 1st Degree Murder to a term of years is just as remote as the possibility it would commute a death sentence to one of life or term of years,” Morfeld said.

“The board of pardons is composed of the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State – who must vote to commute a sentence to something less than life for it to be possible for parole to happen.”

“If voters are concerned that without the death penalty those currently on death row will ever be paroled, they should simply ask the Governor or Attorney General which of the ten men on death row he is going to commute to a sentence less than life.”

“With the death penalty gone, we can be 100% confident those sentenced to life imprisonment will die in prison,” Morfeld said.Retired District Court Judge Ronald Reagan, who served on the bench for over 32 years and sentenced John Joubert to death, said he has no doubt about Nebraska’s life imprisonment law.

“I want to make sure there is no legal confusion that life imprisonment means life in prison, no chance of parole. Anything else is political posturing and has no grounding in the legal realities,” Reagan said.

“I have seen the worst of the worst cases in Nebraska and I have studied the laws very carefully. Let me be perfectly clear about what happens when someone is sentenced to life imprisonment in Nebraska: they die in prison,” Reagan said.

“The Unicameral and Attorney General have been abundantly clear that life imprisonment means life. I want to add that the Nebraska Supreme Court has also affirmed this. In 2014, in the Castaneda case, our state’s highest court said ‘a life’ sentence in Nebraska is no different than a sentence of ‘life without parole’, ” Reagan said.“I am confident if Nebraskans are able to have the same conversation that the Unicameral has been having over the last several years, they will come to the same conclusion that we did – that our death penalty is broken and life imprisonment is a better alternative. It exists, and it works,” Coash said.

Source: Retain a Just Nebraska, May 18, 2016. Retain a Just Nebraska is a public education campaign to urge the retention of LB 268, the Nebraska Legislature’s vote to end the death penalty. Supporters include fiscal conservatives, law enforcement officials, faith leaders, murder victims’ families, and Nebraskans from all walks of life. It is a statewide coalition conducting public education on the smart alternative of life in prison without parole, which protects society without the many problems of our death penalty system.

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