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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…

Vietnamese court sentences 73-year-old Vietnam-born Australian woman to death for trafficking heroin

The People's Court found Nguyen Thi Huong guilty of smuggling 2.8 kg of heroin.
The People's Court found Nguyen Thi Huong guilty of smuggling 2.8 kg of heroin.
A court in southern Vietnam has sentenced a 73-year-old Vietnam-born Australian woman to death for trafficking heroin hidden in bars of soap, several state-run media outlets reported on Thursday.

The Ho Chi Minh City People's Court found Nguyen Thi Huong guilty on Wednesday of possessing 36 bars of soap stuffed with 2.8 kg (6 lb) of heroin in her baggage as she was boarding a flight to Australia in December 2014, the Ho Chi Minh City Police newspaper said.

Court officials and Australian diplomats in the city could not be reached for comment about the case.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was "concerned that an Australian citizen has been sentenced to death in Vietnam" but added that under Vietnamese law the woman can appeal the sentence "so there is still some way to go before this legal process concludes".

"We will continue to provide consular assistance and support to the woman and her family. Universal opposition to capital punishment is a long-established policy of Australian governments," a department spokesperson said in an email.

The Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper and news portal tuoitrenews.vn reported that Huong had said she was given the soap as a gift by a woman, identified only as Helen, while they were on a trip to the coastal city of Vung Tau.

Huong told the court she wanted to take them to Australia as gifts and was not aware of what they contained.

However, the Ho Chi Minh City Police newspaper, controlled by the city's police, said Huong had failed to prove that the other woman was real.

The court ruled that the offence was "extremely dangerous to the community" and found her guilty. She now faces death by lethal injection.

The Tuoi Tre newspaper published a photo of Huong covering her mouth with her hands as she was taken from the court after the verdict. Huong has 15 days in which to appeal against the death sentence.

The death penalty is applied in communist Vietnam in cases of trafficking of 100 grams of heroin or more. In late 2013, Vietnam adopted the use of lethal injections for capital cases instead of firing squads.

Source: Reuters, June 30, 2016

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