Monday, June 13, 2005

Will Texas lose the death penalty?

Today the Supreme Court overturne the conviction of Thomas Miller-El and remanded the case to either be retried, or Miller-El released. The conviction was overturned due to the strong evidence of racial prejudice during jury selection.

See SCOTUSblog's notes here and here.

See the AP report from the Houston Chronicle here.

This is the second time the Supreme Court has heard the appeal of Miller-El. The Court sent the case back to the 5th Circuit last year after noting the strong evidence of racial prejudice. The 5th Circuit completely ignored the Supreme Court's order, dismissing the appeal (again) and quoting (without citing) only Mr. Justice Thomas' DISSENT in the original Miller-El decision.

Writing for the majority today, Mr. Justice Souter noted the state court's determination was, "wrong to a clear and convincing degree; the state court's conclusion was unreasonable as well as erroneous" - which was also a clear rebuke of the 5th Circuit's unwillingness to re-look at this clear, convincing, and unreasonable error. AP also noted:
Last year, the Supreme Court overturned two Texas death sentences because jurors were not old of the defendants' learning disabilities. They were LaRoyce Lathair Smith, convicted for he 1991 killing of a Taco Bell manager in Dallas, and Robert Tennard, charged with killing a ouston neighbor in 1985.
The court also lifted Delma Banks' death sentence and delivered a strong criticism of Texas officials and lower courts, saying that prosecutors had hid crucial information that might have helped Banks' case.
For such a conservative Court, this is an unusually large amount of reversal's. Last year there was discussion that the Supreme Court is so frustrated by Texas' and the 5th Circuit's unwillingness to provide rigorous tests and protections related to capital punishment, that at some point, the Supreme Court may halt the process in Texas until the state can come to grips with just just how unfair it's process is. Here is a NYTimes column from last year noting the High Court's frustration with the capital punishment system in Texas. Miller-El can only be another step in that direction.

See J. Souter's opinion here (joined by O'Connor, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Stevens, and Breyer).
See J. Breyer's concurrance here (suggesting doing away with peremptory challenges).
See J. Thomas's dissent here (joined by the Chief Justice and Scalia).

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