Fourteenth Amendment of US Const

Monday, the Supreme Court heard argument in the Bies case (see 04/27/09 post), and the very next day issued its opinion in Cone v. Bell, 555 U.S. ___ (2009), both capital punishment cases where the defendant argued a diminished capacity of some sort. In today’s case, there was an intentional hiding of the ball by the State and a definite due process problem.

Gary Cone was a known drug addict who murdered two people.

It is undisputed that Gary Cone was a Vietnam veteran who returned home to Memphis, Tennessee, and failed to cope well with civilian life. One Saturday morning in 1980, Gary Cone robbed a jewelry store – obviously, not very well – and was promptly pursued by local police in what turned into a high speed chase.

Veering into a residential neighborhood, Cone abandoned his car and shot both a police officer and a Good Samaritan who tried to stop him as Cone fled on foot. On the hunt for another getaway car, Cone tried to carjack someone and when they refused to give them the keys, he tried to shoot them, too, only to find he was out of bullets. By this time, helicopters were flying overhead and the scene was escalating to a frantic pace. (You’ve seen the reality TV shows like COPS, you can visualize these events.)

Somehow that Saturday afternoon, Cone got away. No one could find him. However, early the next morning, Gary Cone was still in the neighborhood – knocking on the door of an elderly couple, Shipley and Cleopatra Todd. He asked to use their phone; Cleo Todd refused and slammed the door on Cone. Cleo called the cops, and still Cone could not be found.

The tragedy occurred later that same day. Cone returned to the Todd home, forced himself into their house, and beat the two senior citizens to death before tearing their house apart. He shaved there, got himself to the Memphis airport, and was busted while robbing a drug store in Pompano Beach, Florida a couple of days later.

Vietnam Vet Cone Asserted an Insanity Defense – He Didn’t Contest His Actions

Vietnam vet Gary Cone was arrested, tried, and convicted of the Todds’ murder. He never challenged evidence that showed he committed these horrific acts. What he asserted as his defense was his mental illness: Cone’s defense team brought forth evidence to show that Cone suffered from chronic amphetamine psychosis, a mental disorder caused by excessive drug abuse.

Experts testified that the drug use began while Cone was serving in Vietnam, where he was using “horrific” quantities of drugs while dealing with the bodies of dead soldiers. The mental illness caused by this drug use created a level of paranoia and a disorder including hallucinations that would keep Cone from understanding or being able to conform to everyday life and the boundaries imposed by Tennessee law.

In sum, the entirety of Cone’s defense was mental illness. He was legally insane when the crimes were committed.
Continue Reading US Supreme Court Finds Prosecution Intentionally Violated Due Process in 20 Yr Old Death Penalty Case

So far, we have three posts (03/27/09; 04/16/09; 04/20/09) that deal with the role of a judge – at both the trial and appellate levels – in a death penalty case. There’s a lot more to consider about the impact that judges have in death penalty considerations, but before we delve further into their role, it seems wise to bring the attorneys into the mix.

First, the criminal defense attorneys. (Next, the prosecutors.)

Before a lawyer can represent a client who is facing capital punishment in a Florida case, he must meet many, many requirements. Why? The Florida legislature as well as the Florida courts have recognized that when a defendant’s life is at stake, his legal counsel plays a vital role in making sure that due process of law is achieved.

Once again, it’s about your right to due process of law

Every aspect of due process must be vigilantly protected when the State is seeking to kill a defendant as punishment for actions that defendant has allegedly done. The ability of the government to take a citizen’s life must be scrupulously monitored and restrained – this is one of the key purposes of our due process standards.

Remember, as Justice Rehnquist alluded to in the Brady Opinion (04/20/09 post), the focus is on the state, not the individual defendant. Anything but the strictest of due process standards in death penalty cases risks the horrors of a fatal error.

Today, even with our due process standards in place, there are many innocent people who have been sent to Death Row, as the Innocence Project can readily confirm. Some innocent people have been executed in this country. Due process is not perfect – after all, it’s a manmade construct — but it’s the standard that we have set in our judicial system. It’s the best we can do, and our jurisprudence is always attempting to hone and better our due process standards.

Death Penalty Criminal Defense Attorneys in Florida

Perhaps the most important role from a due process perspective in a death penalty case is that of defense counsel. The trial judge, of course, vigilantly monitors each step of the legal process, but it is the defendant’s own attorneys that must make the objections to possible violations, and fill the record for appeal with the proper procedural foundations when errors are made.

A trial judge cannot rule on an objection that is not made. An appellate judge cannot rule a point of error left unaddressed.

Different states have different requirements for their death penalty defense attorneys, as does federal law for federal capital punishment cases. In Florida, a specific checklist provides the legal requirements that a criminal defense attorney must have before he sets as lead trial counsel, trial co-counsel, or appellate counsel for a defendant facing the penalty of death.
Continue Reading The Checklist for Death Penalty Qualified Criminal Defense Attorneys in Florida

Due process under the law has been constitutionally protected since our nation began, although the phrase gets tossed around quite a bit these days without much concern as to its real importance.

Due process is protected by the 5th (federal) and 14th (state) Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, although it is a principle with origins in the Magna Carta. In that historic document, England’s King John promised that “…[n]o free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”

King John signed the Magna Carta over 790 years ago. You’d think that due process of law would be pretty much settled into a traditional, solid role in our society by now. Particularly so, when it comes to those officials in positions of authority. But if you think that, you’d be wrong.

Due Process of Law is endangered in this country.

Never has our sacred right to due process under the law been more endangered than it is today. And no – I’m not about to delve into the current Florida case concerning a young woman awaiting trial for the murder of her child.

Instead, I’m looking over at our sister state, Texas, and what’s been going on over there since the afternoon of September 26, 2007.

Texas Chief Justice Faces Criminal Charges, Civil Trial, and Impeachment Arising From Death Penalty Case

Criminal charges were recently filed against Sharon Keller, the Chief Justice of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, by Texans for Public Justice for her actions on the day that Michael Richard was executed by lethal injection. (In Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest court for all criminal matters; the state divides its civil and criminal caseloads, and has a separate high court, the Texas Supreme Court, which hears all civil matters as the state court of last resort.)
Continue Reading Texas Chief Justice Sharon Keller’s Lesson to Us All About Due Process