Texas seeks to speed up executions with request to Justice Department

Texas seeks to speed up executions with request to Justice Department
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Texas is seeking approval from Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAlabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 Next attorney general must embrace marijuana law reforms MORE to opt in to a federal law that would shorten the appeals process for death row inmates, allowing the state to execute prisoners faster.

Fans of the provision say it will speed up the lengthy appeals process for crime victims and save the government money from dragged out legal proceedings, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

However, opponents say that it increases the risk that innocent people will be executed in the state’s death chamber in Huntsville.


The law, which dates back to the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, allows for the state to curb federal appeals in death penalty cases. 

States have to prove that their lawyers were competent enough to provide sufficient counsel early enough in the judicial process. No state has ever qualified, according to the Chronicle.

Sessions recently appealed to Texas and Arizona about receiving certification, the only two states that had previously shown interest.

If Sessions approves their motions, it would cut the amount of time attorneys have to investigate appeals cases in half, according to the newspaper.

Lawyers would only have six months to interview witnesses, hire investigators and prepare for a case that could be decades old with missing or insufficient evidence.

“Doing all that in one year is already extraordinarily difficult, and any further limitations would only exacerbate the existing problem,” Emily Olson-Gault, director of the Death Penalty Representation Project at the American Bar Association, told the Chronicle.

The reduced timeframe could lead to life-or-death mistakes and a “greater risk that serious constitutional errors will stand uncorrected,” Olson-Gault said.

It would also place restrictions on the stays of execution judges could grant and how many times a prisoner can raise claims in their federal proceedings.

The Texas attorney general’s office said opting in to the 1996 law would speed up the tedious process.

“Opting-in would serve several purposes for Texans, including sparing crime victims years of unnecessary and stressful delays, ensuring that our state court judgments are respected by federal judges as cases progress, and reducing the excessive costs of lengthy federal court proceedings,” spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn told the Chronicle. 

The state is also requesting that the opt-in be retroactively applied to current death penalty cases, threatening ongoing appeals to capital punishment cases. 

There has been a federal lawsuit filed attempting to block the opt-in and dozens of advocacy groups and legal professionals are attempted to halt the application.

“Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially,” Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services, told the newspaper.

It is unclear when Sessions’s will decide on the application, the Chronicle reported. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE’s top prosecutor has been a strong proponent of the death penalty and has advocated for the executions of drug traffickers.

On Saturday, it was reported that the top official in charge of the death penalty unit at Sessions’s Department of Justice was removed from his post after reports of gender bias and hostile leadership. 

There are currently 229 inmates on Texas’s death row, according to the Texas Tribune’s Faces of Death Row project.

Five men have scheduled executions.