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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…

Aussie sentenced to life for drug trafficking in Vietnam, escapes death penalty

Hanoi, Vietnam
A court in southern Vietnam has sentenced an Australian man to life in prison for drug trafficking.

Nathan Andrew James was convicted in a one-day trial by the People's Court in Ho Chi Minh City this week, a court official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

James, 34, was arrested in October 2013 while checking into a flight to Australia after customs officials at the airport discovered 1.5 kilograms ( 3.3 pounds ) of heroin hidden in his luggage.

The indictment said James owed some money to a man named Tim, who offered to write off the debt if James agreed to take the heroin hidden in two suitcases from Vietnam to Australia.

James told the court that he had received the suitcases from the man, but denied that he knew heroin was hidden in them, an explanation that was rejected by the court, the official said.

James could have been sentenced to death, but the court took into consideration his history of mental disorders, she said.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement Wednesday that it has provided consular assistance to a man convicted in Vietnam. It did not name him.

That assistance included attending court proceedings and visiting him in prison. The statement gave no other details, citing privacy obligations.

Vietnam has one of the world's toughest drug laws, where trafficking 100 grams of heroin is punishable by death.

Source: The Associated Press, June 1, 2016

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