The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided an unusual writ case last week, which contains some disturbing admissions - at least they are disturbing to me. Hector Medina was appointed extremely competent lawyers to pursue an application for writ of habeas corpus in his death penalty case. His lawyer made a tactical decision to submit a cursory writ, which was only four page long. His reasoning - which I don't fully understand or agree with - was that he wanted to change the pleading rules in habeas cases.
The court recognized the writ was not complete, and there was probably a lot more there. However, they couldn't decide what to do. If they denied the writ then Mr. Medina had lost his chance at relief through post-conviction proceedings. They couldn't force the lawyer to re-file, nor could they find him ineffective because they have already held that there is no right to effective assistance in a writ proceeding. So they came up with a new approach - they found the writ was not a "cognizable writ application", held the lawyer in contempt and appointed new counsel.
All that's fine and good - at least Mr. Medina is not going to be executed without having presented a complete writ application, which the Court will probably deny. The disturbing part comes in the dissent of Justice Keasler, which points out that the application in this case is no different from others they have denied on the merits. He noted that during his time on the court he had seen a number of applications that were just as poorly prepared as this one, and they were all denied.
The disturbing part of that statement is that he acknowledges the Court knows they are denying relief when they know one someone has not been properly represented. Since you don't have the right to effective assistance, it's too bad. To me that is inexcusable.
If you are going to execute someone you should only do so after their case has been fully reviewed. Yet the court is affirming death sentences when they know the person's case is not being fully reviewed. While you would hope all lawyers would take their jobs seriously the said fact is we know they don't. The court shouldn't be able to pass the buck, and say "that's not my job." I would like to think this is a step toward that, but I'm not convinced.
If nothing else, this should show just how screwed up our death penalty system is.