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January 19 2011 | UNITED STATES

USA

Texas, judge Kevin Fine stopped. He wanted to show the legal unfairness of the death penalty

 
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Associated Press

Court: Judge can't rule on Texas death penalty

HOUSTON - Texas' highest criminal court on Wednesday permanently stopped an unusual court hearing on the constitutionality of the death penalty in the state, ruling the Houston judge who had ordered it doesn't have the authority to conduct the legal proceeding.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said that state District Judge Kevin Fine was «acting beyond the scope of his lawful authority» when he decided to hold the two-week hearing, which began last month but was temporarily stopped after two days at the request of prosecutors.

Last spring Fine initially declared the Texas death penalty statute unconstitutional after granting a pre-trial motion in a capital murder case he is presiding over. Under heavy criticism, Fine clarified then rescinded his ruling and ordered the hearing, saying he needed to hear evidence on the issue.

Fine is a judge in Harris County, which has sent more inmates to the lethal-injection gurney than any other county in the nation. Texas carries out more executions than any other U.S. state.

Lawyers for the Houston man who had asked for the hearing had argued that flaws in how death penalty prosecutions are conducted in Texas have resulted in a risk that innocent people will be executed. They said their client, John Edward Green Jr., is innocent and that the case against him uses some of the same faulty evidentiary procedures that have resulted in others being wrongly convicted. Green, who is awaiting trial, faces a possible death sentence if convicted of fatally shooting a Houston woman during a June 2008 robbery.

In its 16-page ruling, the appeals court said the issues raised by Green's attorneys are important moral and public policy questions more suitable for debate by legislators and not the courts.

«Neither trial judges nor judges on this court sit as a moral authority over the appropriateness of the death penalty,» the appeals court said. «We can determine only whether it has been constitutionally imposed by a jury after a specific conviction and sentence.» The appeals court is dominated by Republicans and led by a chief judge who was disciplined for closing the court promptly at 5 p.m. while a death row inmate tried unsuccessfully to file an appeal hours before he was executed.

Prosecutors had said the claims being made by Greens' attorneys were well-settled case law and that Fine didn't have the authority to prevent the state from seeking the death penalty in the case. Prosecutors unsuccessfully tried to get Fine removed from the case, saying he is biased against the death penalty.

Fine has said he believes capital punishment is constitutional and the hearing would have only focused on the specific legal issues raised by Green's attorneys.

 

AFP

USA: le procès de la peine de mort au Texas interdit par une cour d'appel

WASHINGTON,  - Le procès, inhabituel aux Etats-Unis, de la constitutionnalité de la peine de mort ne pourra pas reprendre, a décidé mercredi la cour d'appel du Texas (sud), renvoyant la responsabilité d'une éventuelle décision aux législateurs.

Le juge Kevin Fine, un progressiste élu dans un Etat ultra-conservateur et dont une partie du corps est recouverte de tatouages, avait ouvert le 6 décembre une série d'audiences afin de déterminer si la peine de mort, telle qu'appliquée au Texas, ne créait pas un risque d'exécuter des innocents.

La Cour d'appel criminelle du Texas avait suspendu les audiences le 7 décembre. Mercredi elle a annoncé qu'elle interdisait à six voix contre deux leur reprise.

Le juge Fine avait décidé de tenir ces audiences dans le cas d'un jeune Noir de 25 ans, John Green, contre lequel le procureur du Texas entend requérir la peine de mort dans une affaire de braquage en 2008.

Mais pour la cour d'appel, le fait que M. Green n'a pas encore été jugé rend le recours irrecevable.

"M. Green se dit innocent, mais part apparemment du principe qu'il sera déclaré coupable à tort à l'issue de son procès et condamné à mort", estime la cour. "Cette supposition n'est pas justifiée tant qu'un jury n'a pas examiné les éléments de preuve et rendu un verdict", poursuit-elle.

Selon elle, l'accusé ne peut pas "affirmer qu'aucun jury ne peut décider s'il est coupable d'un meurtre passible de la peine de mort parce qu'il est possible qu'un innocent, peut-être au Texas, peut-être ailleurs, a été exécuté à tort". "La Cour suprême n'a jamais requis l'infaillibilité humaine dans le droit et la procédure pénale", argumente la cour d'appel.

La constitutionnalité de la peine de mort au regard de la possibilité d'exécuter un innocent représente "une question de politique publique énorme qui mérite un long et intense débat mené par les personnes compétentes, dans l'institution adéquate et au bon moment", ajoute la cour, renvoyant le problème aux élus texans.

Les avocats de M. Green ont exprimé dans un communiqué "leur profonde déception". "La décision d'aujourd'hui ne fait rien pour dissiper la nébulosité qui entoure le manque de fiabilité et l'indifférence du système de peine capitale au Texas", ont-ils affirmé.

Deux condamnés à mort dont les culpabilités ont été remises en cause par les experts ont été exécutés au Texas en 2000 et 2004. Claude Jones a été condamné sur la foi d'un cheveu retrouvé sur la scène du crime que des analyses ADN posthumes ont prouvé ne pas être le sien. Todd Willingham a été condamné à mort accusé d'avoir tué ses trois filles. Plusieurs experts ont démontré depuis que l'incendie dans lequelles les fillettes sont mortes étaient accidentel.

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