By failing to ensure high-quality death penalty appeals, Texas risks a backlash from the U.S. Supreme Court that could put its capital punishment system in jeopardy, says a constitutional scholar quoted by the Austin American-Statesman. Three high court rulings since 2000 have recognized that providing death-row defendants with effective, competent lawyers at their trials is crucial to the proper administration of the death penalty.
The trend suggests a move toward requiring effective lawyers at all levels of death penalty representation, said law Prof. Eric Freedman of Hofstra University, a leading practitioner of habeas corpus cases. To do so, the court must revisit a 17-year-old precedent that found death row inmates have no constitutional right to an appointed habeas lawyer. The ruling in Murray v. Giarratano is significant because, following the court’s logic, inmates have no right to expect state-appointed lawyers to be effective or competent. Lawyers who botch habeas petitions cannot be held accountable, leaving prisoners with no recourse as appeals founder. Freedman, a death penalty opponent, believes conditions are right for the court to revisit Giarratano.