Baby Steps in Criminal Justice System Reform
But at least the state of Texas recognized that handing over the appeals of death row inmates to often inexperienced or incompetent attorneys is on its face unfair.
Texas, which executes more convicts than any other state in the nation, will open its first capital defense office next year to manage appeals for death row inmates after years of reports that appointed private attorneys repeatedly botched the job. [...]
The law was inspired by a series of stories about Texas inmates who lost crucial appeals after court-appointed attorneys missed deadlines or filed only so-called “skeletal” writs — documents with little information often copied from other cases. It represents a significant reform for Texas, one of the only capital punishment states that lacks a public defender to oversee key death row appeals known as state writs of habeas corpus.
The office, with an annual budget of about $1 million and a staff of nine, won't open soon enough to help any of the inmates whose appellate rights were squandered recently.
“Better late than never,” said Juan Castillo, one of four death row inmates whose state appeals were never filed by the San Antonio attorney assigned to represent them. “This is a start. There's a lot of cases” that have been screwed up. [Lise Olsen, Houston Chronicle, July 27, 2009]
Something like this is long overdue, but it is only one small reform to the criminal justice system that we need. Improved, independent forensics and revised rules for the use of eyewitnesses (for example, new techniques for the flawed method of police line-ups) would help insure that innocent people are not convicted and that the guilty ones don't walk in this world free in the meantime.
You can help by joining The Innocence Project. I did.