WhenLawyersStumble

Three months after The Marshall Project broke a monumental story on the possible wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas in 2004 (The Prosecutor and the Snitch), the newly formed investigative journalism group has officially launched its website with another feature story:

Lethal Mix:  Lawyer’s Mistakes and Unforgiving Law.  An investigation into how a 1996 law created a 1-year statute of limitations for appeals which has caused hundreds of inmates to lose the right to a final appeal.  This law has resulted in the execution of 16 people and at least 80 people facing execution have lost their final chance to have their case heard.

execution-room-in-US-pris-004

The Project’s report, Death by Deadline, noted, “Some of the lawyers’ mistakes can be traced to their misunderstandings of federal habeas law and the notoriously complex procedures that have grown up around it. Just as often, though, the errors have exposed the lack of care and resources that have long plagued the patchwork system by which indigent death-row prisoners are provided with legal help.”

For example, one lawyer in Alabama was addicted to meth and on probation for public intoxication when he missed the deadline.  Despite his actions, his client suffered.  In Texas, an attorney filed too late and was reprimanded for misconduct, but it didn’t matter in the client’s case and another lawyer was put on probation twice before being state-appointed to a capital case and then unsurprisingly, put on probation two weeks later.

Read the Washington Post story here and the full report here (Part 1, Part 2).

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