Texas is re-upping a request to “opt in” to a federal law that would speed up the execution appeals process in the state, potentially leading to quicker executions.
Houston Chronicle reporter Keri Blakinger says this would set a shorter time limit on part of the federal appeals process. Currently the limit is set at one year, and this would reduce the window of time to six months.
“So it means that defense lawyers only have six months to prepare a key filing that starts off the federal appeals process,” Blakinger says. “To do that filing, they have to re-investigate what can, at that point, be years of a case. They have to go back and find any lawyering mistakes. They have to go back and find anything that might help an innocence claim.”
Blakinger says, in the current system, inmates can be on death row for many years.
“I think the thought is that this would cut down on the length of the appeals process and possibly benefit murder victims’ family members who would not have to wait as long to see what they believe is justice done,” Blakinger says.
Texas has had the “opt-in” option ever since the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act passed in 1996 in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. For the first 10 years, it was up to the courts to decide whether a state could opt in. Under the Patriot Act, that decisionmaking then shifted to the Attorney General. Currently, no state has been approved.
“Texas applied in 2013 and Eric Holder did not approve it,” Blakinger says. “Just didn’t respond.”
In November, Jeff Session asked whether Texas was still interested in the opt-in process. The state said yes.
As of now, Blakinger says, a broad coalition of groups opposes the change.
Written by Angela Bonilla