A district court in Texas will decide if the death penalty is unconstitutional during a hearing scheduled for Monday, December 6. The hearing is based on the high number of wrongful convictions in the state of Texas. This is the first time in the state’s history that a court will examine the problem of innocent people being executed in a Texas capital trial. John Edward Green, Jr. is charged in the fatal shooting of a 34-year-old Houston woman during a 2008 robbery and could face the death penalty if convicted. According to legal documents, Green’s defense attorneys will be arguing in district court that a number of factors in Texas’s legal system increase the risk of wrongful executions there. Green and his attorneys contend that there is a lack of safety measure to protect against mistaken eyewitness identification, faulty forensic evidence, incompetent lawyers at the appellate level, failures to guard against false confessions and a history of racial discrimination in jury selection in Texas.
Since 1976, twelve people have been exonerated from death row in Texas out of 139 nationwide. Four study commissions set up by the Texas government have formally recognized the serious risks of wrongful convictions in the state. Out of the 464 people that have been executed in Texas, about 70 percent have been minorities, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Maurie Levin, a law professor at the University of Texas and an expert on capital punishment, said she would not be surprised if Judge Kevin Fine ruled the death penalty to be unconstitutional in Texas on Monday. "I would think that Judge Fine would have substantial basis in the evidence that I’m aware of that would lead to a conclusion that the Texas death penalty is unconstitutional as applied," she said in a statement to The Huffington Post.
Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service, said it is clear to her that the death penalty is handed down unfairly and erratically in Texas. "It is my opinion, and the opinion of many people close to this issue, that the Texas system is wholly incapable of carrying out the death penalty in a fair and reliable way," she said. "Texas is remarkably out of step with the rest of the country and certainly out of step with what the average Texan would expect when dealing with capital punishment. We’re seeing, in case after case, that the system is just inherently prone to the risk of wrongful convictions and has a complete inability to correct its mistakes."
It is interesting to note that this case has been before Judge Fine earlier this year and he originally ruled that the death penalty in Texas is unfairly applied. Last month, the death penalty in Texas was heavily scrutinized after a DNA test conducted on a single hair undermined the evidence that convicted a Texas man of capital murder over ten years ago.