RECENT LEGISLATION: Texas to Open First Capital Defense Office for Death Penalty Appeals
Following recently passed legislation, Texas will open an office with nine attorneys to manage post-conviction appeals in death penalty cases. In the past, appointed attorneys sometimes missed filing deadlines or filed inadequate briefs, thereby jeopardizing their clients' cases. The Office of Capital Writs will be funded by redirecting money already in the state budget: $500,000 formerly used to pay private attorneys for appeals and $494,520 from the state's Fair Defense account. The office will oversee the part of the appeals process known as state habeas corpus where constitutional issues outside the trial can be raised. This important phase can address issues such as new evidence of innocence, prosecutorial misconduct, and inadequate representation. Eventually, this office will handle most state habeas appeals, which currently number about 10 a year. "I think that everyone agrees (death row inmates) deserve one fair shot at presenting their issues," said Andrea Marsh, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project. "We saw too many cases where poor state habeas representation forced people to lose appeals."