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Supreme Court rules on Texas Death Penalty fiasco

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  • Supreme Court rules on Texas Death Penalty fiasco

    Supreme Court rebukes Texas on death sentence

    By Charles Lane
    Washington Post

    WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court delivered a stern critique of Texas' conduct in a high-profile death-penalty case Tuesday, ruling unanimously that the state had wrongfully sentenced a man who came within 10 minutes of being executed last year.

    By a vote of 7-2, the court ruled that prosecutors violated the constitutional rights of Delma Banks Jr. by withholding information that his defense lawyers could have used to discredit a key prosecution witness during his 1980 sentencing hearing.

    By a vote of 9-0, the court also ruled that Banks should be allowed to appeal his murder conviction, because prosecutors may have improperly withheld information during the phase of the trial in which jurors found him guilty of killing 16-year-old Richard Whitehead -- a crime he denies committing. Banks is black; Whitehead was white, as were all 12 jurors.

    As a result of the twin rulings, Banks is not only off death row -- unless Texas re-sentences him to death at some point in the future -- he also has a fresh chance to be acquitted of the crime entirely.

    The opinion for the court, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, chided Texas officials for continuing ``to hold secret'' the information throughout almost two decades of appeals by Banks in state courts.

    ``Prosecutors' dishonest conduct or unwarranted concealment should attract no judicial approbation,'' Ginsburg wrote.

    Though moderately worded, Ginsburg's opinion, joined at least in part by all of the court's most conservative members, sends a strong signal that the court intends to be vigilant about how capital punishment is administered in the state that executes more convicted murderers than any other.

    As such, it is also a direct rebuke to the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, the conservative-leaning court that has front-line responsibility for policing constitutional violations in Texas. Last year, that court overruled a federal district judge and ordered Banks' death sentence reinstated.

    This is the second time in two years that the Supreme Court has overwhelmingly reversed a 5th Circuit decision upholding a Texas death sentence. Last year, by a vote of 8-1, it ordered the 5th Circuit to reconsider the case of a black death-row inmate who argued that prosecutors had deliberately purged the jury of eligible black members.

    Prison officials in Texas had already fed Banks his last meal and were preparing to administer a lethal injection on the night of March 12, 2003, when the Supreme Court ordered a halt to the execution so it could consider his appeal.

    During his 23 years on Texas' death row, Banks' case has become a rallying point for death-penalty opponents, who contend that it illustrates the irregularities that plague capital cases. During his tenure as Texas governor, George W. Bush had no role in the case.

    Banks had attracted support from a group of former prosecutors and retired federal judges headed by former judge and FBI chief William Sessions. Their friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court said the Banks case was rife with prosecutorial misconduct and other ``uncured constitutional errors'' that are ``typical of those that have undermined public confidence in the fairness of our capital punishment system.''

    Though agreeing with the other seven members of the court that problems with the testimony warranted giving Banks an opportunity to appeal his conviction, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, dissented from the decision to throw out his sentence.
    The Dude abides.

  • #2
    But there is no problem with the death penalty, hmmm 10 minutes and he would have been dead, but thats ok.
    Be passionate about what you believe in, or why bother.


    • #3
      In the Banks case, at least, it seems the biggest problem was the prosecutors.


      • #4
        Imo, there are certain cases where the death penalty seems wararnted -- Carlie Bruscia, the DC sniper, to name just a few recent examples. Yet, if I was a Gov., I would be concerned that our legal system is so rotted that justice was not being served appropriately by continuing to utilize the death penalty.

        We need to make a major effort to revamp our whole criminal law system. I don't trust many of the lawyers who end up defending such citizens, nor the motives of the prosecutors who convict them. Although there are some good explanations for it, the racial makeup is disturbing, also.

        In any case, the legalization of the DP should always be left up to the States. But that shouldn't stop the Federal government from trying(at least attempt to!) fix the whole bloody system.
        The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life. -TR


        Madyaks2 Thought Of The Day: I'm just as dumb as madyaks1.