A Partial Victory

>> Friday, February 26, 2010

You may remember the case in which the Texas sentenced a man to death after a trial in which the judge and prosecutor were literally in bed together, and the state's abominable appellate courts created a series of transparent procedural Catch-22s to insulate the state from its gross violation of due process. Earlier in the week, the Texas courts threw out his death sentence without addressing the central issue:

A Texas court threw out the death sentence on Wednesday of a man whose double murder conviction gained international attention because of revelations that the judge and prosecutor had had an extramarital affair.

But the decision from the State Court of Criminal Appeals did not mention the affair, focusing instead on whether jurors had been blocked from getting information that might have helped them deliver a less severe sentence.


The new opinion, on a separate writ, focused on whether the jurors should have been able to fully consider issues like Mr. Hood’s learning disabilities, and the fact that he had been gravely injured at 3 years old when a truck backed over him, crushing his legs.

Such questions about jury instructions are an area of legal dispute that has bounced from state courts to the United States Supreme Court and back over the past 20 years. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has called the result “a dog’s breakfast of divided, conflicting, and ever-changing analyses.”

With the equivalent of a textual sigh, Judge Cathy Cochran wrote in the Texas court’s majority opinion that, “We wade once more into the murky waters” of jury instruction; and the majority ruled that Mr. Hood deserved a new hearing on the question of punishment.

Since it only affects sentencing, this decision shouldn't make the pending appeal to the Supreme Court moot. Whether the Supremes will grant cert or not, I have no idea.


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