Texan Loses High Court Death Penalty Appeal, 5-4

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A Texas death row inmate could face execution after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in a 5-4 decision split among ideological lines, the Texas Tribune reports. Erick Davila was convicted in the 2008 shooting deaths of a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother. The case revolved around claims of ineffective assistance of counsel during state appeals. Appellate courts have ruled differently on the issue, a situation that often prompts the Supreme Court to step in. In an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s majority held that the different types of lawyers should not be treated the same. “Because a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to counsel in state post-conviction proceedings, ineffective assistance in those proceedings does not qualify as cause to excuse a procedural default,” wrote Thomas, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “The fact that, according to Department of Justice statistics, nearly a third of convictions or sentences in capital cases are overturned at some stage of review suggests the practical importance of the appeal right, particularly in a capital case such as this one,” Breyer said. Davila fatally shot a rival gang member’s 5-year-old daughter and mother during a child’s birthday party. Avila, now 30, claims he only meant to kill a rival. If the jury had believed Davila only intended to kill one person, he would have been ineligible for a capital murder verdict.

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