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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 Attorneys Argue Death Penalty Clashes With Religious Freedoms Of Prospective Jurors

The parking lot behind the AME Emanuel Church, Charleston.
The parking lot behind the AME Emanuel Church, Charleston.
Attorneys for the accused Charleston church shooter argue that forcing potential jurors to say they would impose the death penalty violates their religious freedoms.

Attorneys for the man accused of killing nine black members of a historic South Carolina church expanded their argument opposing the death penalty on Monday, asserting it violates the religious freedoms of prospective jurors.

The attorneys for Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof argue that asking potential jurors to state they are capable of imposing a death sentence “cannot be justified as having a legitimate secular purpose when it functions to skew the jury in favor of conviction” and encourages judges and prosecutors “to interrogate private citizens about their religious beliefs.”

The court filing was an answer to the government’s argument against Roof’s motion to strike the death penalty as a possible punishment in the federal case, which is set to start jury selection this month.

Religious freedoms are also inhibited, Roof’s attorneys added, because potential people are forced to choose between jury service and “adherence to their most closely-held religious, spiritual, and moral values.”

Prosecutors for the government argue that the so-called process of “death qualifying” jurors isn’t religious discrimination because it’s the same if you oppose the death penalty for religious reasons or non-religious ones.

“A prospective juror’s religion or religious beliefs do not potentially disqualify the juror from service; only his inability to apply the law does so,” prosecutors have argued.

Roof’s attorneys are also arguing that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional. They also noted that their challenge is only being brought because the government rejected his offer to plead guilty and accept a punishment of multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Jury selection in Roof’s federal trial is scheduled to begin later this month, with 3,000 Charleston-area residents slated to participate in the process.

Source: BuzzFeed, Mike Hayes, Sept. 13, 2016

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