The Austin American-Statesman had a couple of good ideas this month. They published an editorial saying Texas should abolish the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and another editorial saying Texas should create a statewide office of public defenders for capital murder cases, saying “there should be bipartisan concern over Texas’ broken system. Proper writs eliminate doubt regarding a defendant’s guilt and can free those who are innocent. That is not happening in many instances for Texas death row inmates.”
They argued that the CCA should be abolished and its caseload transferred to the Texas Supreme Court, because the CCA “has failed in its obligation to ensure that the condemned received competent legal help.” Other reasons to get rid of the CCA:
Generally, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court is widely respected. But the Court of Criminal Appeals — also composed of nine elected GOP judges — has embarrassed the state with a series of bad rulings, many of them regarding the death penalty. Recently, the conservative leaning U.S. Supreme Court signaled its frustration with Texas’ criminal appeals court when it agreed to hear three Texas death penalty cases in its next term.
By now, many Texans know about some of the rulings that made national news, including the infamous sleeping lawyer case. In that case, the criminal appeals court judges saw nothing wrong with a defense lawyer who slept through key portions of his client’s capital murder trial.
The same court said OK to prosecutors who hid evidence from defense lawyers in several capital murder cases involving indigent defendants.
And it gave thumbs up to racial gerrymandering of a jury by Dallas prosecutors years ago in another capital murder case.
This week, we learned about more disturbing practices that probably are costing people their lives. For years, the court has permitted lawyers to submit sloppy, erroneous and inferior work in death penalty appeals. In a system in which almost anything passes as a writ of habeas corpus to appeal a death sentence, it is very possible that innocent people have been — and will be — put to death.
Rumor has it that a legislator is planning to file a bill that if passed would create a statewide office of public offenders, but so far we have not yet heard of anyone planning any legislation to abolish the Court of Criminal Appeals, but filing of new bills has only just begun.