On Drunk Lawyers, Intellectual Disability, and Lethal Injection in Georgia

A parole panel in Georgia refused on Monday to grant clemency to a man who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday evening, apparently unpersuaded by evidence that he was ineptly represented at trial by a drunken lawyer, had an exceptionally harsh childhood and has a severe intellectual deficit.

But in what could be a legal decision with wider effects, lawyers for the man, Robert Wayne Holsey, were still waiting for the Georgia Supreme Court to respond to a last-minute appeal. They argued that the state’s standard for determining intellectual disability in capital cases — the country’s most stringent — runs afoul of a recent decision by the United States Supreme Court.

Mr. Holsey was convicted of armed robbery and murder in 1997 and sentenced to death. He had robbed a convenience store and shot and killed a pursuing officer.

His trial lawyer later admitted that at the time he was drinking up to a quart of vodka daily and facing theft charges that would land him in prison. He said he should not have been representing a client.

On appeal, a Superior Court judge ruled that during the penalty phase of Mr. Holsey’s trial, his lawyer had failed to effectively present evidence that might have forestalled a death penalty, including facts about Mr. Holsey’s history and his intellectual deficit. That judge called for a new sentencing trial.

But the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the decision, ruling that the jury had heard enough evidence about mitigating factors during the initial trial…

The state requires defendants to prove that they are intellectually disabled “beyond a reasonable doubt…”

In other states, either a “preponderance of evidence” or “clear and convincing evidence” is necessary to establish disability, said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor and death penalty expert at Hofstra University. Both are less stringent standards than the one used in Georgia.

Robert Wayne Holsey Faces Lethal Injection in Georgia, NYTimes.com, 12/8/2015

MD AG @DougGansler says #deathrow sentence be converted to #LWOP

Reports the Washington Post:

[Death-row inmate Jody Lee] Miles is seeking to have his sentence changed in the wake of the General Assembly’s repeal of the death penalty last year. The legislature’s action did not directly affect the sentences of the four remaining men on Maryland’s death row, but Gansler argued that the state is “no longer legally or factually able to carry out” executions…

[T]he state would like to convert Miles’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole, which he said is “in effect a death sentence.” Miles is seeking a new sentence of life with the possibility of parole…

Maryland has not had regulations in place since late 2006 on how to execute prisoners through lethal injections. A court found the protocols had not been properly adopted, and the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — a death penalty opponent — never implemented new rules.

With the death penalty no longer on the books, the state cannot develop new regulations on carrying out executions, even under a new governor, Gansler said. Keeping Miles on death row, Gansler argued, therefore violates his due-process rights.

On Prosecutorial Misconduct

According to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, nearly half of all wrongful convictions arise from the prosecutorial misconduct or the misconduct of other officials. Steve Weinburg has broken down types of prosecutorial misconduct:

  • Courtroom misconduct (making inappropriate or inflammatory comments in the presence of the jury; introducing or attempting to introduce inadmissible, inappropriate or inflammatory evidence; mischaracterizing the evidence or the facts of the case to the court or jury; committing violations pertaining to the selection of the jury; or making improper closing arguments);
  • Mishandling of physical evidence (hiding, destroying or tampering with evidence, case files or court records);
  • Failing to disclose exculpatory evidence;
  • Threatening, badgering or tampering with witnesses;
  • Using false or misleading evidence;
  • Harassing, displaying bias toward, or having a vendetta against the defendant or defendant’s counsel (including selective or vindictive prosecution, which includes instances of denial of a speedy trial); and
  • Improper behavior during grand jury proceedings.

Retribution and Deterrence of the Death Penalty

“Based on my specialized knowledge of this process, I now conclude that the death penalty as a form of punishment should be abolished because the execution of individuals does not appear to measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes served by the death penalty; the life without parole option adequately protects society at large in the same way as the death penalty punishment option; and the risk of executing an innocent person for a capital murder is unreasonably high, particularly in light of procedural-default laws and the prevalence of ineffective trial and initial habeas counsel.”

– Judge Tom Price, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Ex parte Panetti (No. WR-37,145-04), in his 11/26/14 dissent of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ denial of Mr. Scott Panetti’s writ seeking to halt his scheduled execution. The 5th Circuit halted the execution on 12/3/14, acknowledging the “complex legal questions at issue,” presumably that of imposing the death penalty on someone with severe mental illness.