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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Texas: Shock belt use cited as part of James Calvert's death penalty appeal

Shock belt
A man on death row for a brutal Smith County murder says the electric shock he received during trial violated his constitutional rights.

James Calvert was convicted in 2015 of capital murder and sentenced to death for fatally shooting his ex-wife, Jelena Sriraman, and abducting their child in October 2012.

Calvert was sentenced to death after a lengthy, if somewhat bizarre, trial in Smith County's 241st District Court.

Calvert's death penalty sentence automatically triggered an appeal, which was filed this past October with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Several points of error are presented in the appeal. The 1st point alleges that the electric shock violated Calvert's rights to, "substantive and procedural due process," while a 2nd point alleges the trial court erred by refusing to grant a mistrial after the electric shock incident.

"The trial court had lesser alternatives, and allowing bailiffs to use a 50,000-volt shock device in these circumstances shocks the conscience and contributed to a violation of Calvert's right to a fair trial," the appeal states.

Records show the shock was administered to Calvert after the jury had left the courtroom for the day, after Calvert refused the judge's order to stand while speaking. The contentious back-and-forth discussion led a deputy in the courtroom to administer a shock to the belt worn by Calvert. The defendant screamed for about 5 seconds, according to a witness.

Smith County is one of several in Texas who use electric shock devices to control defendants who are determined to be a security risk. The use of the device during Calvert's trial made headlines across the country.

The issue is bubbling up once again due to a decision last month by the Texas Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso. An appeals judge ruled that judges are not allowed to use the shock belt to penalize defendants for not answering questions, or because the defendant failed to follow rules of decorum in the courtroom.

Calvert is requesting oral arguments, saying there are "substantial issues, the record is exceedingly large, and oral arguments will assist the Court to gain a full understanding of the case."

The Smith County District Attorney's Office was granted a time extension on filing their response to Calvert's appeal. It is expected to be filed on or before May 28.

After that is done, the next move is up to the appeals court.

Source:  KLTV News, March 8, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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