Thursday, October 23, 2008

Woods Case Shows Need for Statewide Public Defenders Office for Death Penalty Cases

Bobby Woods received a stay of execution today from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The reason for the stay was not given, but the Austin American-Statesman reported that it likely had to do with Woods' previous lawyer not adequately representing him by failing to fully present the case of Woods' mental retardation.

Woods' previous lawyer was Fort Worth attorney Richard Alley.

Alley, Woods alleged, failed to challenge the prosecutors’ IQ tests as antiquated, did not unearth an easy-to-find test showing Woods’ IQ was 60 and did not collect crucial affidavits from friends and family about Wood’s inability to fully communicate or take care of himself. The new filing has 10 such affidavits.

“Mr. Alley failed in all aspects to adequately represent Mr. Woods,” the petition says.

Alley was featured in a 2006 American-Statesman analysis of court-appointed lawyers for writs of habeas corpus, one of two appeals granted to death row inmates. The analysis found Alley copied large parts of his petitions from previous filings and from other appeals that cannot be considered in a habeas review. A federal court also reprimanded Alley for repeated unethical behavior and poor work on a death penalty appeal in 2002.

Shortly after the newspaper report, the Court of Criminal Appeals removed Alley from its list of lawyers eligible to handle habeas petitions.
Next session, the Texas Legislature should pass a bill to create a statewide office of public defenders to handle death penalty appeals, so that people as incompetent as Richard Alley never again represent anyone appealing a death penalty sentence. An example of such an office in another state is California's Office of the State Public Defender, which "focuses its resources on post-conviction appellate representation in death penalty cases. The agency currently represents more than 130 men and women on death row in California".

Of course, Texas also needs competent attorneys at the trial level for people accused of capital crimes, but a public defenders office that handles appeals in death penalty cases would be a start towards what we really need - a statewide defender's office that is responsible for capital cases from start to finish.

Such a "start to finish" office was endorsed by the Austin American-Statesman in an editorial in 2006 just before the last session of the Texas Legislature:
that office could be financed by a combination of state money now going to court-appointed lawyers handling death row habeas appeals and county dollars that fund lawyers for indigent capital murder defendants for their initial trials. Such an agency could hire lawyers who are experienced and competent in handling death row cases. It isn't a perfect solution, but far better than what is in place now.

The public and state leaders should be concerned about whether convicted capital murderers are being executed for the right reason — because they are guilty — and not because their lawyers bungled the job.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: