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View Diary: Man with 51 IQ held for 30 years without proper trial (79 comments)

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  •  Yeeesh. (32+ / 0-)

    5th Cir opinion here.  I will note this, however:

    On September 17, 1980, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously reversed his conviction. Hartfield v. State, 645 S.W.2d 436, 441 (Tex. Crim. App. 1980). The court held that the State had violated Hartfield’s constitutional rights by striking a juror for cause because of her reservations about the death penalty. See Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968); see also Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 38, 43-45 (1980) (extending Witherspoon to the specific procedure Texas employs in capital cases).

    Witherspoon only affected the sentence and not the determination of guilt. Nonetheless, Texas law at the time of this conviction required an entirely new trial.

    On March 14, [1983] the Board of Pardons and Paroles sent a recommendation to the Governor urging him to commute Hartfield’s sentence from death to life imprisonment. The next day, the Governor issued a proclamation the sentence. The Board of Pardons and Paroles notified the Court of Criminal Appeals in a letter sent with a copy of the Governor’s proclamation.

    The clerk of the state trial court returned two form postcards to the clerk of the Court of Criminal Appeals. The first form postcard, dated March 9, 1983, stated, “I have this day received the mandate of the Court of Criminal Appeals in Case No. __,” and had a space in which Hartfield’s name and case number were written. The other form postcard, dated March 23, 1983, stated, “Please return this card when the execution of the enclosed mandate has been carried out.” The date inserted in the blank for stating the date of compliance with the mandate for a new capital-murder trial was March 16, a week after the mandate was received. Further, the person who was identified as having executed the mandate for a new trial was Governor Mark White, with the notation added “Death Sentence commuted to Life by Governor.”

    It may have been the state trial court’s view that the Governor’s action was a sufficient execution of the mandate, but there was never any effort by the State or Hartfield to determine if the Court of Criminal Appeals had the same view. No caselaw has been found that in any similar circumstance, commutation did or did not suffice. For 23 years, the State treated the proclamation as effectively canceling the judgment that reversed the conviction and remanded the cause for a new trial. Seemingly, so did Hartfield.

    •  I am confused by this. (21+ / 0-)

      For 30 years no one noticed he was supposed to have a new trial?

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. - Elbert Hubbard -9.62/-8.15

      by GustavMahler on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 08:46:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think somebody needs to take a hard look (22+ / 0-)

        into Wharton County's handling of this too.

        LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

        by BlackSheep1 on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 08:48:14 PM PST

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      •  See below. (13+ / 0-)

        The state (and the prisoner) thought that the commutation effort eliminated that right.

        •  If that is the case did he have effective counsel? (6+ / 0-)

          Shouldn't his lawyer have known that the conviction was overturned, therefore not to go for the commutation effort?

          I'm not sure I get all the facets of this yet, but it seems like there is a huge mess here.

          The thing is, did he actually kill the people or get railroaded?  I don't think anyone is arguing he didn't commit the murders, or am I mistaken?  

          At any rate, with an IQ of that level, it doesn't sound like he had a lot of mental capacity.

          "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

          by YucatanMan on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 10:40:28 PM PST

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          •  He didn't have a lawyer as I remember (15+ / 0-)

            The really remarkable thing about this challenge, which by the way was roundly ignored by the less than useless Texas Court of Criminal Appeals TWICE, is that it originated in a pro se challenge (ie one filed by the appellant himself without the help of a lawyer), he was only assigned a lawyer at all once it got to the Federal level.

            hope springs eternal

            by ahyums on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:06:03 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  So He Represented Himself at Trial? (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              YucatanMan, raincrow

              He's free to do that but this would explain why no one on the outside was trying to set a new trial right after the 5th Circuit ordered a new one.

              "The problem with posting quotes off the Internet is you never know if they're genuine."--Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Gettysburg, February 30, 1908

              by Aspe4 on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 06:23:11 AM PST

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              •  he had a trial lawyer, but not for appeals. (7+ / 0-)

                Just a jailhouse friend who helped him with the pleadings.

                •  Yikes! His Lawyer Let this Happen?? nt (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  YucatanMan, raincrow

                  "The problem with posting quotes off the Internet is you never know if they're genuine."--Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Gettysburg, February 30, 1908

                  by Aspe4 on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 06:42:45 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Let's go back to that 1983 Tx Ct Crim App opinion (5+ / 0-)

                    Voila. There were timing issues involved:

                    The State's only meritorious issue raised in this regard is whether appellant failed to properly preserve his error as to the exclusion of this venirewoman. The State now maintains that while appellant's trial counsel made "an exception" to the court's ruling, this constituted nothing more than a general objection and he therefore waived any possible error. We do not agree. It must be kept in mind that the voir dire examination in question took place in June of 1977, three full years prior to the June 1980 decision in Adams, supra. Therefore, at the time Hlozek was excused, Sec. 12.31(b) was considered constitutional even to the extent that it allowed exclusion of prospective jurors on a broader ground than Witherspoon, supra, and consequently there was no reason for appellant's counsel to strenuously attempt to preserve his error. We find that appellant did not waive his error. The improper exclusion of even one juror requires that the death sentence not be imposed. Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 97 S.Ct. 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 399 (1976). The State's contention is overruled
            •  Texas courts are a mess, particularly the appeals (4+ / 0-)

              courts.  Elected judges are just a bad idea in any place, but a particularly awful idea here in Texas.  Imagine being on trial and your judge is a tea-bagger buffoon.

              "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

              by YucatanMan on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 09:09:32 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Also to try and shed some light on your other (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Philpm, codairem, Aspe4, YucatanMan

            questions. ( really wish we could edit comments so I could add it to the above)

            The way this happened as far as I understand it, is that his conviction was overturned on the basis of an inappropriate juror who was biased in favor of the death penalty being on the jury. The way Texas law was at the time that meant the whole conviction as gone, nowadays a similar challenge would result in a new penalty phase trial ie. life or death, but either way he would still be in prison. His death sentence was then commuted by the governor and as far as Texas were concerned that was the end of the matter, I assume they just treated him as if he was sentenced to life.

            So the short answer is no idea if he is innocent or not, though I would note the low IQ would man he would trouble effectively defending himself and there it has been established that those with a pro death bias are more likely to vote to convict in the first place.

            hope springs eternal

            by ahyums on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:56:07 AM PST

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      •  regardless of result, he'd be in prison. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        its almost a no harm no foul situation.

        •  Only no harm if you think incompetent or (10+ / 0-)

          illegal application of our Constitutional rights doesn't matter.  Texas is also notorious for convicting and possibly executing innocent people as well. A new Trial with a competent attorney would give him the opportunity to raise defenses related to his mental state. With an IQ in that range it's easy to imagine that his abilities to meet legal standards for a conviction of first degree murder are impaired. If so, and he is only guilty of a lesser homicide then he wouldn't still be in jail necessarily. It's one of my frustrations with the people upset by the Bradley Manning situation. Our legal system didn't just start being unfair when he was arrested. And the things that have happened to him are not as bad as things that happen to other people accused of crime every day. That doesn't make it right. But "fixing" the Bradley Manning situation shouldn't make anyone feel better about the system either.

          "Speak the TRUTH, even if your voice shakes."

          by stellaluna on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 04:56:38 AM PST

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          •  facts not in evidence (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Aspe4, VClib

            I don't believe there was a competency-of-counsel objection in the habeas petition.

            •  No Im not saying there was poor lawyering at (0+ / 0-)

              the first trial. Though a person could be forgiven if they made that assumption given the many horrible examples of ineffective assistance that come out of Texas. I was saying there could be a different result at a second trial. That is, one that wouldn't result in a life sentence. What we know now about cognitive disabilities and how they impact the ability to form the specific intent to kill, especially to deliberate, could provide a first phase, or guilt/innocence defense that I seriously doubt was raised at his original trial. Not because of ineffective assistance but because of changes both in psychology and the forensic application of those changes.  The fact is, with an IQ of 51 he isn't even death sentence eligible now. A conviction of a lesser included offense would give him a sentence that would make it possible that he wasn't any longer likely to be in jail either way, as the comment I was responding to mentioned. As far as counsel's effectiveness goes, I'm sure the commutation felt like a victory at the time. But, as he is entitled to a new trial, and if the State chooses to retry the case, I think it is not a forgone conclusion that he will end up with the same result.

              "Speak the TRUTH, even if your voice shakes."

              by stellaluna on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 12:16:17 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  I Think He's Still Capable of Forming Malice (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Adam B, JesseCW

            to be convicted of murder, however, his IQ may make him unable to assist his lawyer in a defense. I don't think low IQ alone can negate intent to kill and malice aforethought. But who knows, maybe a jury would disagree but the defendant never got the chance to see.  

            "The problem with posting quotes off the Internet is you never know if they're genuine."--Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Gettysburg, February 30, 1908

            by Aspe4 on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 06:27:25 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes, but in most states you can have malice but (0+ / 0-)

              Not premeditation or deliberation and then have some other form of homicide other than first degree murder.  Maybe second degree murder. IQ can negate the intent to kill if the person isn't able to deliberate. Depending on how case law defines deliberation, a person's cognitive deficiencies can affect that.  His ability to assist his attorney would go to a different, but important, issue--competency to stand trial. Most people with IQ deficiencies, even in that low range, are ultimately found competent to stand trial. Though, in my opinion they shouldn't be.

              "Speak the TRUTH, even if your voice shakes."

              by stellaluna on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 12:22:49 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Malice aforethought isn't an element. (0+ / 0-)

                He was convicted of capital murder. Texas doesn't have the traditional felony/first degree/second degree distinction, but basically capital murder is first- or second-degree murder comited during the course of a dangerous felony.

                All the State would need to prove is intent to kill or cause serious injury during the course of a robbery. Diminished capacity wouldn't normally preclude forming the necessary intent.

                Competency is probably the bigger issue, but that usually comes up in the context of mental illness. Someone with the mental age of a 9-year-old can still truthfully answer an attorney's questions, whereas someone with severe paranoia or who is completely delusional cannot.

                •  It has been my experience as well that IQ rarely (0+ / 0-)

                  forms the basis for a claim related to competency. Though I generally think that there is more to assisting counsel at trial than answering questions truthfully and understanding the nature of the proceedings, I always find that the Courts don't agree with me.

                  I am interested to know if you are saying that the only capital murder cases are ones where the defendant is guilty by virtue of of the felony murder rule. I know many states include felony murder in the category of first degree murders but didn't know that Texas doesn't have a separate capital offense that goes to state of mind. I can't tell if that is what you are saying because in most states intent to kill is still distinguished by premeditation and deliberation.

                  "Speak the TRUTH, even if your voice shakes."

                  by stellaluna on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 04:11:37 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  And yes, if there is felony murder diminished (0+ / 0-)

                  capacity is not a defense. I don't what the jury was instructed on and what they found the defendant guilty of in this case.

                  "Speak the TRUTH, even if your voice shakes."

                  by stellaluna on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 04:13:49 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

        •  Probably, but ... (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Robobagpiper, Philpm, codairem, Aspe4, VClib

          ... the argument is that even at the guilt phase, excluding leaning-against-death-penalty jurors tilts the scales too much.

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