What’s worse than being an innocent man on death row? Being an innocent man doing life w/o parole. No lawyer.

As awful as the death penalty system is, at least the people subject to it have lawyers. If you’re just sentenced to life in prison without parole for something you quite possibly didn’t do, you’re probably s.o.l., especially if you have an I.Q. of 51.

Note that the state is still fighting in court to keep this man locked up, thirty years after his conviction was overturned. The jury foreman told the defendant’s lawyer “We’re all farmers and ranchers down here, and when one of our animals goes crazy, we shoot it.” No bonus points for guessing the defendant’s race.

If I lived in Texas, and I believed in the Justice of God, I’d consider moving out, and shaking the dust from my sandals.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

16 thoughts on “Injustice”

  1. When General Sheridan said that if he owned Texas and Hell, he’d rent out Texas and live in Hell, he wasn’t just talking about the climate.

    1. I believe that was General William T. Sherman, who served as military governor of Texas during reconstruction.

      1. I always heard it was Sheridan. Could have been Sherman, though. Could’ve been both men said similar things. My Google Fu is weak at the moment but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that many people have compared Texas with Hell and found Texas wanting.

        1. One could by implication include “Goodbye God, we’re going to Texas”. I’m not certain how old that one is but “Forrest”[Asa Earl] Carter took the title “Gone to Texas” from the phrase.

          As to what you should clean from your sandals after walking out of Texas, dust is the least of it.

  2. I think what Mark means by “at least the people subject to it have lawyers” is that a death sentence usually gets you an appellate lawyer, whereas anything else usually doesn’t. Gideon v. Wainwright gives all felony defendants a right to a trial lawyer even if you can’t pay for one (although not a good one.) There is no similar Constitutional right to an appellate lawyer, if you’re unfortunate enough to be convicted at trial. I’m pretty sure that this is true for the death penalty, as well, although I may be wrong here. Some states give you a statutory (or State constitutional) right to an appellate lawyer for death penalty cases. But lots of big firms take on death penalty appeals–its good PR (at least in NY and CA) and makes their associates feel good.

    1. Every capital sentence is automatically appealed, and indigent defendants get publicly-paid counsel for that appeal. In addition, as you say, there’s a network of pro-bono death penalty counsel. In this case, as soon as the defendant’s sentence was committed to life imprisonment, his lawyer stopped working on the case, which is how it came to pass that he has spent 30 years (and counting) in prison after an appeals court overturned his conviction.

    2. Where an appeal as of right from a judgment of conviction is available under the law of the State, there is a constitutional right to a lawyer for purposes of appeal, including appointment of a lawyer for an indigent defendant.

      1. OTOH, reading the history of Douglas v. California, it appears that (a) the defendants, being indigent, applied for public counsel to aid their original appeal; (b) that application having been denied, they appealed that denial in district appeals court; (c) being denied there, they appealed that ruling to the State Supreme Court; and (d) that also being denied, they appealed to SCOTUS, where they prevailed.

        So they knew what the heck they were doing, or they had some powerful help. As I read it, this fellow Hartfield has neither the personal abilities, the resources, the friends, or the relatives to pursue his “rights” without somebody stepping up to the plate for him. The fact that he is allowed a public attorney in no ways guarantees he will get one, unless and until he asks … loudly and publically, and probably repeatedly. That may be a challenge way above his paygrade.

        1. Clarence Gideon, of Gideon v. Wainwright fame, was pro se until SCOTUS appointed Abe Fortas to represent him.

  3. The easy answer is that they had some powerful help in the form of Marvin M. Mitchelson and Burton Marks (who went on to become a big-time criminal lawyer). I don’t know the answer to the more interesting question of how they got those lawyers in the first place or where the money to pursue the appeal came from, although both lawyers were listed on the brief as having been court appointed.

  4. “If I lived in Texas, and I believed in the Justice of God, I’d consider moving out, and shaking the dust from my sandals.”
    You got that right. God has nothing to do with my life, and that’s what I did anyway, 48 years ago as soon as I got out of grad school, and I didn’t even pause to shake any dust out. There was never even the slightest thought about returning anywhere in the southern U.S. – just a feeling of being extremely lucky to have been able to get out, unlike most residents.

  5. Another instance of conservatives not really caring about following the “rules” very scrupulously when it’s not in their interest.

  6. i remain in texas because i refuse to allow the criminal gang who have taken over this state over the past 30 years or their deluded minions to drive me out of the state that has been home to my family for the 7 generations preceding mine. i live as an unabashed liberal democrat in the midst of joe barton’s district and i use every device i command to persuade those around me of what an ignoble tribe the republicans are.

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