Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Execution of Justice

According to this article, Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, stands accused by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with incompetence, violating her duties and casting public discredit on the judiciary.

Apparently Judge Keller refused to extend the hours of her clerk's office to allow a convicted man to file an appeal only hours before he was due to be executed. The execution was carried out. If there weren't so much at stake the circumstances of Judge Keller's refusal would be comic.

The article quotes Judge Keller and her views on criminal justice. When interviewed by Frontline on an unrelated matter (another appeal against a sentence of death), Judge Keller mused that "[w]e can't give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent". Why not? Because there would be "no finality in the criminal justice system, and finality is important".

It is true enough that in some jurisdictions, a convicted appellant bears the burden of proof of innocence. That appears to be the case in Texas, at any rate. But it is almost grotesque to speak of "finality" in the context of someone trying to halt an impending execution. There's not much that is more "final" than staring your mortality in the face.

It's good that the American practice of electing judges has not caught on. In her campaign for a spot on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Judge Keller sold herself as "pro-prosecution". We all know that judges can't be absolutely objective when it comes to deciding cases, but there is an ideal to aspire to. And to be unashamedly "pro-prosecution"? I'm not an expert on Texan criminal law, but there is a presumption of innocence, right?

1 comment:

  1. This post inspired righteous indignation. This is wicked shady.