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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 Wants The Jury Reminded They Are Never Required To Impose The Death Penalty

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Lawyers for the accused Charleston shooter responded to the prosecutors' motion to limit his use of a "mercy" defense at trial.

Dylann Roof's defense attorney responded this week to the prosecution's request that the court limit the accused Charleston church shooter's use of a "mercy" defense when he goes on trial for the killing of 9 people on June 17, 2015 inside the Emanuel AME church.

The main point being debated by each side in the case is whether or not it is appropriate for the judge to instruct the jury that each juror is by law never required to impose a sentence of death in any case. 

The prosecution's position is that mercy may enter into the debate over Roof's sentence as a possible mitigating factor to be discussed during the sentencing phase of the trial, should Roof be convicted, but not before.

Roof's attorneys write that in their motion the government "conflates 2 distinct concepts in federal capital jury instruction."

'[F]irst, that the [Federal Death Penalty Act], by its terms, never requires a jury to impose a death sentence prior to discretionary finding that any aggravating factors sufficiently outweigh the mitigating factors," Roof's attorneys write. "[A]nd 2nd, the separate argument that, following the weighing process and a finding that the death penalty is justified, jurors should be permitted to exercise mercy and impose a sentence of life without the possibility of release."

Roof's attorneys add that the jurors need to be instructed on this point that a death sentence is never required of them in order to avoid confusion or an assumption that "the law will have determined in advance what crimes and offenders are to be punished by death."

"This persistent and widespread confusion should not come as a complete surprise," the attorneys write. "Few jurors - or judges, for that matter - will be glad to learn that the life of a fellow human being has been consigned to their discretionary moral judgement. Faced with this prospect, it is simpler to believe - even if it is not true - that the law itself provides the answer to the momentous question of life and death."

Earlier this week, the federal judge in the case ordered that jury selection will begin on Sept. 26 with 3,000 prospective jurors asked to appear at the district courthouse in Charleston. 

Phase one of jury selection will involve filling out a questionnaire that will include a list of possible witnesses - prospective jurors who know these witnesses will be excused. The questioning of individuals jurors has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 7.

Roof's attorneys write that they intend to include an instruction to jurors stating that they are not required to impose the death penalty in any case when they submit their proposed jury instructions on Oct. 11.

Source: BuzzFeedNews, September 17, 2016

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