Courts Ignore Secret Affair in TX Death Penalty Case

April 20, 2010

EqJustUnderLawIn the context of the Troy Davis case, I’ve written quite a bit about how the US Supreme Court, so far, as avoided taking a definitive position on whether it’s constitutional to execute someone who can establish his innocence.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined an opportunity to decide whether a sexual affair between a judge and prosecutor resulted in an unfair trial for the defendant. 

Both of these questions ought to be no-brainers.  No, you should never execute people who have established their innocence; and yes, a judge-prosecutor romance should lead to a new trial for the defendant.  But for Charles Dean Hood, whose case the high Court brushed off yesterday, no new trial will be forthcoming.  He will remain on death row in Texas, awaiting a re-sentencing hearing on an unrelated issue.

In response, former Texas Governor Mark White, and former FBI director William Sessions, both of whom now work for criminal justice reforms with the Constitution Project, admonished the Court for its “indifference to such paramount injustice” and said:

“The relationship between the judge and prosecutor in this case breached every standard of fairness that we rightfully expect from our country’s criminal justice system, casting grave doubt on the impartiality of the trial in this case and tarnishing the reputation of the judiciary and our criminal justice system as a whole.”

A criminal justice system is only effective when the public has faith in its fairness and accuracy.  The failure of the courts in this case to address a blatantly obvious injustice can only shake public confidence in our system’s ability to be fair and get things right.  This is bad for all of us.  Our courts need to step up to the plate and hear these fundamental questions, instead of continually passing them off until they disappear.