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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…

Attorneys argue Indiana death penalty unconstitutional

Indiana's death chamber
Indiana's death chamber
Attorneys for a man who faces charges in the deaths of 7 women have argued in court filings that the state of Indiana's death penalty law is unconstitutional.

The Post-Tribune reports that Darren Vann remains in isolation at the Lake County jail. His attorneys argued in an Aug. 5 filing that an Indiana Code statute is unconstitutional in 2 main areas.

They question how a jury is supposed to weigh factors that could influence a death sentence. They also say it's unconstitutional to allow a judge to determine a defendant's death sentence when the jury can't.

Government prosecutors have until Sept. 7 to file a response to the claim.

Lake County prosecutors requested the death penalty for Vann last year.

Lake County prosecutors requested the death penalty for Vann last year. He faces charges in connection with the deaths of Anith Jones 35, of Merrillville; Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Chicago; Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary; Tracy Martin, 41, of Gary; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya Billingsley, 52, of Gary; and Tanya Gatlin, 27, of Highland.

If convicted, he could join 13 other people on death row in Indiana.

Kevin Charles Isom, the other man facing the death penalty in Lake County, also questioned the factors a jury is supposed to weigh before sentencing someone to death. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled against him in 2015.

The constitutionality of capital punishment is an issue the country has grappled with for decades as states have altered their death penalty laws.

"Pieces of things in the statute have been pulled off and changed (in Indiana)," said Andrea Lyon, dean of Valparaiso University Law School. "But Indiana Supreme Court and, thus far, any other federal court has not said that Indiana, generally, has been unconstitutional."

Delaware's highest court ruled its state's death penalty law was unconstitutional less than two weeks ago. It said it gave judges too large of a role over juries in imposing death sentences.

Vann's attorneys say in the motion that the situations in Delaware and Indiana are similar.

Source: Associated Press, August 21, 2016

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