Saturday, August 08, 2009

DMN Has Q&A with Rep Miklos - Chair of Capital Punishment Subcommittee

The Dallas Morning News has a Q&A with State Rep Robert Miklos, the first-term legislator and chair of the subcommittee on capital punishment in the last session of the Texas Legislature. No big surprises in the interview. Miklos is a former prosecutor. He voted against HB 2267, the bill that would have ended the death penalty for people who do not kill anyone but are convicted under the Law of Parties. He opposes abolishing the death penalty, but he says the process must be fair, so maybe one day he will push for a moratorium on executions and a study commission.

From the article:

What did you learn that surprised you about the way the death penalty is applied in Texas?

I am pretty familiar with how the death penalty is applied in Texas, both from a legal and practical standard, but what I was most surprised about was the previous lack of discussion on the subject by lawmakers. I support the use of the death penalty in Texas, but I believe with the recent exonerations in Dallas County, and across Texas, that we need to make sure of what we are doing. The process must be fair, and the accused must be represented by competent counsel. That's why I joint-authored HB 2058, which relates to the standards for attorneys representing indigent clients in capital cases.

You began the session as a supporter of capital punishment because of deterrent value. Did your position change as you heard more about Texas' system during the session?

No. I believe that our peace officers and our children deserve the added protection that having the death penalty as a potential punishment provides. While you can't legislate away crime, I continue to believe that having the death penalty as an option does deter certain criminal acts.

Did any witness impress you with particularly compelling or eye-opening testimony?

Yes. Several family members of murder victims impressed me with the level of grief, and forgiveness to the criminal, that they displayed. These are real families destroyed forever by terrible acts, and they all deserve thoughtful consideration of our criminal procedures, not bluster and bravado.

Most bills of any kind die in a session of the Legislature. Is there one you most regret didn't make it after coming out of Criminal Jurisprudence?

Yes. SB 117. This bill would have required police departments to adopt certain standard procedures regarding the identification of suspects in a criminal case. Unintentionally faulty identification of suspects by witnesses, understandably shaken by the recent impact of the crime, has been the basis for many of the false convictions in Texas. I think it would surprise many people how common-sense these measures would have been, how fair and flexible for police departments and what procedures they would have replaced.

How would you describe the politics of Texas' death penalty to a non-Texan?

Texans overwhelmingly support the death penalty and believe in its value as an option in the criminal justice system. Like any political issue in Texas, the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum attempt to hijack the debate by demanding absolute obedience to certain ideological absolutes.

Some death penalty opponents say attitudes are shifting and that Texas may someday join the states that don't apply the death penalty. What is your assessment?

I don't think that Texans will support abolishing the death penalty anytime soon. I think what may happen, though, is that the cost of a death penalty case may become so expensive that in these tough economic times, many counties may forgo seeking the death penalty because they simply can't afford it.

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