Capital Punishment

Joe Freeman Britt won’t forgive murder. Or, apparently, people who DON’T commit murder.

Well, let’s say, if I was a bully, he is a pussy. How about that? I think Johnson Britt has been hanging around too much with the wine and cheese crowd.

– Former District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt, discussing his successor (and relative), current DA Johnson Britt, because the younger Britt had the audacity to support releasing men that Britt the Elder prosecuted for rape and murder just because the DNA evidence exonerated them. Britt the Younger blames his predecessor’s bullying and browbeating style for hindering the search for truth, such as ignoring the serial rapist living 100 yards from the crime scene. Joe Britt has no time for such cream puff notions. Will Justice Scalia follow Joe Britt’s lead?

It looks even better next to some of the other cases currently before us which Justice Blackmun did not select as the vehicle for his announcement that the death penalty is always unconstitutional — for example, the case of the 11-year old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat. How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!

– Justice Antonin Scalia in Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994). The quote looms large today as Justice Scalia’s smugly presented example of how the death penalty can’t possibly be unconstitutionally applied fell apart in epic fashion. DNA evidence exonerated the men convicted of the brutal rape and murder of Sabrina Buie. The prosecutor did not oppose release of the men because DNA evidence pointed to the real perpetrator, a criminal who was convicted of a similar crime soon after Sabrina’s murder. Of all the capital cases in America, many (though certainly nowhere near all) of which do involve criminals who actually committed the crime, Justice Scalia chose at random a case that ultimately confirmed Justice Blackmun’s argument. On the heels of his dissent in Windsor, it’s worth wondering if Justice Scalia is cursed to have his every sarcastic quip fly back in his face.

This week, a Texas campaign ad and a Pennsylvania death penalty appeal each illustrate what happens when lawyers lose sight of for what — and whom — they claim to be working.
Wendy Davis, in the final throes of her Texas gubernatorial race against Attorney General Greg Abbott, launched a controversial campaign ad a few days ago. The ad accuses Abbott of “siding with a corporation over a rape victim,” spotlighting a 1998 Supreme Court of Texas case brought by a woman seeking damages from a vacuum manufacturer after a door-to-door salesman of the vacuums allegedly raped her in her home. A background check should have revealed that the man had a criminal history. Abbott was then a justice on the Texas court. He dissented from the majority’s decision in favor of the woman. Davis’s ad ignited heated debate, with even her supporters questioning the propriety of the ad. Abbott’s campaign called the ad “despicable.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the United States Supreme Court on Monday issued a highly unusual order in a Pennsylvania death penalty case. The Court asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board to investigate and take appropriate actions against Marc Bookman, an attorney who filed a petition for review of Michael Eric Ballard’s death sentence. Ballard slaughtered four people in 2010: his former girlfriend, her father, her grandfather, and a neighbor who tried to help the family when he heard screams coming from the home. Ballard was sentenced to death in 2011. In November 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the sentence. On June 23 of this year, SCOTUS denied Bookman’s petition to review Ballard’s case, but the Court then ordered Bookman to file additional responses about his relationship to Ballard. Apparently not satisfied by Bookman’s replies, the Court referred the case to the state disciplinary authority.

So, what’s the problem in either of these situations? Why the controversy? And what do they have in common?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “What Do A Wendy Davis Campaign Ad And An Unusual SCOTUS Order Have In Common?”

Convicted murderer Joseph Wood’s execution began at 1:52 p.m. yesterday. He was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., according to a statement from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. Some witnesses insist that Wood continued to gasp for air at least 600 times after he was supposedly fully sedated. Others argue that he was merely snoring. Everyone agrees that the lethal injection process took a lot longer than the expected. Death by lethal injection typically occurs within ten minutes or so.

America has grown accustomed to long delays in carrying out the death penalty. Inmates sit on death row for years, even decades. As Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote, “Old age, not execution, is the most serious risk factor for inmates at the San Quentin death row.” We may be used to delays before denizens of death row get to the death chamber, but we have only recently started to see delays once an execution has actually begun….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Is The Death Penalty Worth It?”

In my near 14 years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening.

– Judge Kermit Bye of the Eighth Circuit, in a scathing dissent issued after Missouri executed a death row inmate before the court could finish reviewing his request for a stay. On Wednesday, Missouri executed another death row inmate, this time before the Supreme Court ruled on his request for a stay. The state has executed three inmates in as many months, all while appeals were still pending.

* President Obama defends Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act), saying that the dysfunctional HealthCare.gov website will get fixed. [Washington Post]

* “Calling All Unemployed Law Grads: Greenberg Traurig Is Hiring.” But there’s a catch. We’ll have more on this later today. [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

* The Supreme Court agrees to hear a case regarding how to determine mental disability in death-penalty cases. [National Law Journal]

* If you’re thinking of selling legal services over Groupon, proceed with care. [ABA via WSJ Law Blog]

* Want to get out of jury duty? Try flipping the bird at the defendant (which is what this Biglaw partner allegedly did). [ABA Journal]

* Chris Geidner takes a closer look at Chris Christie’s decision not to keep fighting marriage equality in New Jersey. Is it all about 2016? [BuzzFeed]

* More details on the circumstances surrounding a Reed Smith partner’s profane and ill-advised tweet. Expect Steven Regan to be sent back to “Tweet School.” [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

Alan Dershowitz

It’s going to happen the way things always happen at the court. The court will appear to be leading, but it will be following.

– Professor Alan Dershowitz, offering a prediction about how the Supreme Court will eventually kill off the death penalty. The Court effectively suspended the death penalty in 1972 but brought it back in 1976, a story chronicled in a fascinating new book I’m currently reading, Evan Mandery’s A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America (affiliate link).

Several organizations filed a Complaint of Judicial Misconduct against Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones earlier this week. The complaint charges Judge Jones with a variety of offenses, but the headline-getter is the claim that she made racist remarks during her speech on February 20, 2013, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s chapter of the Federalist Society.

With no transcript or recording of the event, the 12-page complaint relies on the affidavits of a few individuals who attended the speech, including Marc Bookman, the Director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation. Bookman’s affidavit serves as the primary account, with the other affiants agreeing and adding relatively few details. About a week before the Penn Fed Soc speech, Bookman published an essay in Mother Jones titled “How Crazy Is Too Crazy to Be Executed?”, about Texas murderer Andre Thomas. Whether Bookman intended ahead of time to use his account of the Fed Soc event as the basis of a misconduct complaint or not, he was likely expecting to be offended when he attended a Federalist Society speech called “Federal Death Penalty Review” by a pro-death-penalty, Texas-based judge. Just a guess….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “A Tale of Sound & Fury (But No Transcript): In Defense of Judge Edith Jones”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court released opinions in two habeas cases, McQuiggin v. Perkins and Trevino v. Thaler. The holdings reek of liberal judicial activism, however well-intentioned.

In Perkins, my least favorite of Tuesday’s cases, the Court held that a showing of “actual innocence” is sufficient to circumvent the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA) statute of limitations. In effect, a narrow majority decided to judicially amend a validly enacted statute, creating an exception that the majority admits that the statute itself does not contain. On top of that, this particular case may have been a pretty defective vehicle for addressing the limitations question anyway. There’s a pesky matter, discussed at oral argument, about the procedural posture of the case, making it pretty dubious whether the Court should have even gotten to the merits here.

(Cases like Perkins make me want to appropriate my own version of Dan Savage’s “DTMFA” — shorthand for “Dump the Mother-F*cker Already.” Too often, it would be useful to just be able to write “DTMFA” for “DIG the Mother-F*cker Already” for cases that I wish that SCOTUS would dismiss as improvidently granted. But, alas, you probably have to be a syndicated sex columnist for the privilege of coining long-but-useful acronyms.)

Dark days for the fair application of AEDPA….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Death Penalty Dilemma”

Jodi Arias

If it seems like the Jodi Arias murder trial has lasted for weeks, that’s because it has — the courtroom drama began on January 2, 2013, and the proceedings have dragged on until today. HLN legal commentator Nancy Grace has had a field day with all of the allegations in this “who-done-it” murder mystery, just as Grace did in the earlier murder trial of Casey Anthony.

Arias originally blamed the killing of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, on masked intruders. Years later, she admitted that she killed him, but chalked it up to self-defense — in the form of 27 stab wounds, one gunshot wound to the head, and a slit throat.

Lo and behold, after more than 15 hours of deliberations, the jury has finally reached a verdict….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Breaking: The Jodi Arias Verdict Is In”

Page 1 of 41234