Texas Judge to Hold Hearing on Risk of Executing the Innocent

Texas District Judge Kevin Fine scheduled a hearing in a death penalty case to consider whether there is a substantial risk that Texas’s death penalty laws could result in the execution of an innocent person. The hearing, expected to last two weeks, will likely include testimony from experts around the country. Casey Kiernan, one of the attorneys for the defendant, John Green, filed a pre-trial motion regarding the issue of innocence, which led to the hearing. Kiernan said, “I think everybody in the United States would agree that the possibility exists [an innocent person has been executed]. We think there is much more than a possibility, based on all the exonerations, all the problems with the forensics.” Defense attorneys are also planning to raise other issues at the hearing, including the reliability of eyewitness testimony. The hearing will begin on November 8. Judge Fine had initially granted the motion in March, finding Texas’ death penalty law to be unconstitutional. However, he withdrew that decision so that more evidence from both sides could be submitted. UPDATE: On Jan. 12, 2011, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a motion by the prosecutors to order an end to the pre-trial hearing on the constitutionality of Texas’s death penalty statute. The Court had earlier stayed the proceeding after 2 days of testimony in December.

(J. Lozano, “Texas judge to hold hearing on death penalty law,” Associated Press, June 25, 2010). See Innocence. A federal judge held a similar hearing and ruled the federal death penalty unconstitutional (see U.S. v. Quinones). However, that ruling was reversed on appeal.