March 9, 2009

The Saturday New York Times story on Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Justice Sharon Keller contains this gem: 

“We can’t give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent,” she later told the television news program Frontline. “We would have no finality in the criminal justice system, and finality is important.”

Judge Keller is now in big trouble in Texas, not for this callous attitude towards innocent people, but for her role in shutting her court down promptly at 5 pm despite knowing that an appeal in the death penalty case of Michael Richard was on the way, an appeal that would almost certainly have been successful.

Judge Keller is NOT getting in trouble for her preference for finality over innocence because that is in fact a very common view in legal circles throughout the United States.  Indeed this perceived need for finality has led to the rejection of countless appeals with real merit, and the question of executing someone who can establish his innocence, purely for the sake of finality, is the central question for which we are awaiting an answer in the Troy Davis case.

What Judge Keller did in the Richard case was reprehensible, but the casual disregard for the rights of people who can establish their innocence is not only equally reprehensible, but also amazingly widespread.