NEW VOICES: Judges Call for Appellate Review Before Impending Execution

A group of 15 former state and federal judges, including a former Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in support of a stay of execution for Mark Christeson in Missouri. Christeson is scheduled to be executed on October 29, but the judges said he has not received “any meaningful federal review of his death sentence.” In their brief, organized by the Constitution Project, the judges stated: “[O]ur system would be broken indeed if it did not even provide him with an opportunity, assisted by conflict-free counsel, to present his case to a federal court.” The supportive appeal was signed by judges from across the country, including Nathaniel Jones, formerly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Karla Gray, former Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, Gerald Kogan, former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Marsha K. Ternus, former Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, and Michael A. Wolff, former Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court.

The judges further noted the systemic problems that surround this case: “Cases, including this one, are falling through the cracks of the system. And when the stakes are this high, such failures unacceptably threaten the very legitimacy of the judicial process.”

Christeson’s jury never heard evidence of his impoverished and abusive upbringing, and his state court review was denied by the same judge who oversaw his trial. The lawyers appointed to him for his federal review effectively abandoned him, not even meeting him for the first time until a month after the deadline for filing his appeal. As a result, his petition was filed four months late and was denied review by a federal court. The lawyers who made the mistake remained on the case, thereby creating a conflict of interest since effectively advocating for Christeson would mean admitting their own error.

(Press Release, “TCP: Judges’ Brief Warns Allowing Christeson Execution to Proceed Without Court Review Would “cast a pall” over the Judicial Process,” The Constitution Project, October 24, 2014; Christeson v. Roper, BRIEF OF FORMER FEDERAL AND STATE JUDGES AS AMICI CURIAE IN SUPPORT OF APPELLANT’S MOTION FOR A STAY PENDING APPEAL, October 24, 2014). See New Voices and Representation.