High Court Takes Up Texas Death-Penalty Lawyering


Prosecutors allowed two key witnesses to lie to a jury that sentenced Delma Banks to death in 1980. A federal appeals court said it didn’t matter, the Christian Science Monitor notes. Last March 12, Texas was scheduled to execute Banks, but the U.S. Supreme Court delayed it.

Today, the court hears arguments on whether the misconduct of prosecutors and the ineffectiveness of Banks’s attorney were significant enough to void his death sentence. The case arises at a time of national debate over capital punishment, with 111 death-row inmates having successfully overturned their death sentences since 1973. Several justices have criticized what they view as shoddy procedures in state death-penalty cases, and recent rulings have set higher standards of conduct for lawyers on both sides.

The court also has upheld congressional efforts to speed the death-penalty process by curbing the use of multiple habeas corpus appeals by death-row inmates.

In Banks’s case, “I don’t think anyone who is fair-minded can look at the trial he got and say that is the way we want trials to be conducted in this country,” says Miriam Gohara of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represents him.

The Texas Attorney General’s office says that even if the jury had heard the information withheld by prosecutors and witnesses, it would still have issued a death sentence. Also, “this case is about federalism,” says Gena Bunn, Texas’ top capital-punishment appeals lawyer. “The state courts were never afforded a fair opportunity to adjudicate [Banks’s] claims based on the evidence later presented in federal court.”

Link: http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1208/p02s02-usju.html

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