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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…

Texas judge voices doubts on death penalty

Judge Elsa Alcala
Judge Elsa Alcala
A judge on the state’s highest criminal court, which has the last word on Texas death penalty cases, believes it’s time to reassess whether capital punishment should be allowed to continue in the nation’s most prolific state for executions.

Judge Elsa Alcala, a five-year member of the Court of Criminal Appeals, this week filed an opinion saying she has “great concern” over the way Texas implements the death penalty.

Death row inmates, the Republican judge wrote, have raised compelling arguments about falling support for the death penalty, noting that a majority of states now decline to execute inmates either by law or by practice — a change from 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions after a four-year hiatus based in part on support for executing convicted murderers shown by 36 states.

In addition, Alcala wrote, Texas courts should study whether the death penalty is unconstitutional because it is arbitrarily imposed by race, disproportionately affecting minorities, and whether excessive delays in imposing the ultimate sentence results in cruel and unusual punishment because inmates are held in solitary confinement for years, if not decades.

“I think there are, as I said in that opinion, significant problems with the death penalty,” Alcala told the American-Statesman. “There are lots of problems, and I think the public is not aware of the problems.”

“If you ask me how good is Texas at carrying out the death penalty, I am unconvinced,” Alcala said in an interview. “We see cases over and over again where 10, 20 years later you find problems,” including mistaken witness testimony, exonerations based on previously unavailable DNA tests and scientific advancements that call earlier expert testimony into question.


Source: My Statesman, Chuck Lindell, June 17, 2016

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