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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…

Dylann Roof's lawyers seek dismissal of federal charges

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof's lawyers are seeking to dismiss the federal indictment against Roof, saying his charges exceed the authority of the federal government and are unconstitutional.

The request was filed on Tuesday by Roof's defense attorneys.

Defense attorney Sarah Gannett argues that all 33 indictments against Roof should be thrown out because they assert federal jurisdiction in a case that should be left to South Carolina authorities.

Roof's lawyers say if the government withdraws Roof's death penalty, he will plead guilty as charged to all counts in the indictment.

On June 18, 2015, Roof was arrested by authorities in North Carolina, for an arrest warrant issued by the State of South Carolina.

He was transferred to South Carolina custody later that day and charged with various state offenses stemming from the shooting deaths of 9 people, and injury of 3 more at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015.

Roof was later charged in federal court with related offenses, including obstruction of religious exercise resulting in death, hate crime acts resulting in death, and use of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence resulting in death.

Unlike in many federal cases, in which the state prosecution is dismissed in favor of federal prosecution, or in which the federal case is charged only after the state case, the federal and state cases here were charged concurrently.

The federal case is scheduled for November 7, 2016.

The state case is scheduled for trial on January 17, 2017.

In both the state and federal cases, Roof faces a potential death sentence or life in prison without release.

Source: WSPA news, July 6, 2016


Federal prosecutors want statewide jury pool in Roof case

Defense lawyers for accused Charleston church killer Dylann Roof may try to "derail the trial" now set for Nov. 7 unless the judge in the case orders that the jury be picked from a statewide pool, according to court filings by federal prosecutors in the case.

"The government requests this Court use a (pool of potential jurors drawn from across South Carolina)," federal prosecutors said in filings made over the holiday weekend. Prosecutors said their reason is "to ensure that the scheduled trial not be interrupted."

Up to now, the jury in Roof's case was expected to have been selected from a Lowcounty jury pool, whose members would come from Charleston and eight other coastal-area counties. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

In their most recent prosecutorial filing, assistant U.S. attorneys Jay Richardson and Nathan Williams tell U.S. Judge Richard Gergel that defense attorneys could make "an 11th-hour attempt" to change from a Lowcounty jury pool to a statewide pool. That could delay the trial, prosecutors contend.

Also, prosecutors said, they were also worried that defense lawyers might make a last-minute request to changes the trial's location, now set for Charleston, to another place in the state.

However, if Roof's defense lawyers waive their right to any challenge to having a trial in Charleston with the Lowcounty jury pool, prosecutors won't object, the government's filing said.

The government's filing also stressed that, without a statewide jury pool, it may be harder to pick "a fair and impartial" jury because, "Most of the parishioners who were murdered and those who survived Roof's attack ... have strong ties to the Charleston area," the prosecutors' filing said.

Gergel is slated to hold a hearing on July 18 in Charleston on the site and manner of jury selection.

The federal government is seeking the death penalty for Roof, 22, an avowed white supremacist from Columbia who is alleged to have shot and killed 9 African-American parishioners during a Bible study in June 2015 at a downtown Charleston church.

Death penalty trials are far more complex than normal criminal trials. It is normal for lawyers on both sides to vigorously debate pretrial procedures such as jury selection because those procedures may dictate the trial's outcome. In a death penalty trial, a "no" by just 1 out of 12 jurors means a life sentence for the defendant. Death sentences must be unanimous.

Late Tuesday, Roof's defense team filed a 34-page motion urging Gergel to dismiss last year's federal indictment of Roof that has led to federal prosecutors seeking the death penalty. Defense attorneys based their motion on numerous constitutional grounds, including that "the statutes on which it is based exceed the authority of the federal government."

Source: thestate.com, July 6, 2016

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