Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yikes! Extremely Sad Story of "Justice"

Wilson v. Rees, No. 09--6306 (6th Cir. Oct. 14, 2010). Petition for rehearing en banc denied, but Judge Martin offers a chilling dissent. He writes "to highlight this particularly ugly example of why 'the death penalty in this country is arbitrary, biased, and so fundamentally flawed at its very core that it is beyond repair.'"

This case, explains Judge Martin, involved a scandal that "is an embarrassment to all segments of the judiciary, from the judge who violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by having a sexual relationship with a defendant to the court officers who broke their oath of office by ferrying this defendant to and from the judge’s chambers for sex." Judge Martin goes on, "When any trial is infiltrated by this sort of sordid corruption, it demeans our judicial system and undermines public confidence in its judgments. When a criminal defendant’s life is at stake, it is horrifying."

Judge Martin recounts how "the defense in this case began with a handwritten note begging for volunteers, and ended with Wilson clumsily attempting to defend himself because he lacked competent counsel." Judge Marin reflects on Gideon v. Wainwright and its admonition:

From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis

on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals

in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the

poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.

Judge Martin finds that "[n]early half a century after Gideon, its promise remains unfulfilled. Capital defendants like Wilson are routinely appointed counsel without the experience, skill, or commitment to adequately represent them. Much of the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of our current death penalty stems from the fact that quality of representation is the single greatest factor in determining when it is applied."

Judge Martin closes, "When a person is sentenced to death in a kangaroo court such as Wilson’s, with an illicit sexual affair taking place between a co-defendant and a colleague of the trial judge and no semblance of qualified defense counsel, it irreparably tarnishes our legal system. Until we reform this broken system, we cannot rely on it to determine life and death."

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