death penalty

Texas Prosecutor Seeks New Mental Disability Standards in Death Cases

By Peek & Toland on April 24, 2018

The mental disability standards used by Texas in death penalty cases were criticized as outdated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017.

Now commentators and at least one state prosecutor are calling for changes in Texas.

After these standards were ruled unconstitutional Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg called for change. Ogg wants Texas to use current medical science to decide if a defendant is mentally disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

The Texas Tribune reported Ogg wants Texas to conform to the standards set up by the American Psychiatric Association which are similar to how Louisiana and Mississippi determine intellectual disability.

The change follows a Supreme Court ruling on Bobby Moore, a death row inmate from Houston.

Case changed Texas Mental Disability Standards

Texas Mental Disability Standards Are Challenged

Moore was convicted of the shooting death of a Houston supermarket clerk in 1980 and sentenced to death.

Ogg said Moore is intellectually disabled. Questions related to Moore’s mental capacity led to a March 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Texas’ method of determining intellectual disability for prisoners on death row.

The Texas method was deemed to be out of date. However, while the Supreme Court ruling dismissed Texas’ old way of determining disability, it stopped short of creating a new one.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took issue with Texas’s standards branding them as posing an “unacceptable risk” of executing intellectually disabled people. The practice is deemed unconstitutional by the nation’s highest court but states set their own standards.

Inmates deemed competent for execution under the old test were suddenly eligible for new litigation.

At least two inmates who had been on death row for decades had sentences changed to life in prison while awaiting a final ruling on Moore’s intellectual capacity.

Ogg has requested Moore’s sentence is reduced to life in prison. She has also asked Texas to create a new way of determining intellectual disability saying it should be consistent with the medical books.

As long ago as 2002, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling meant to stop the execution of people with an intellectual disability. In Atkins v. Virginia, the Court held it to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel unusual punishment to execute death row inmates with “mental retardation.”

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the Tribune states that fail to adhere to modern medical standards face the vast majority of legal issues. He said:

“We see persistent problems in states [that] have adopted standards that are clearly inconsistent with the contemporary medical standards or have created procedures that make it virtually impossible to prove intellectual disability.”

Murder is one of the most serious crimes you can face in Texas. Capital murder may carry the death penalty. If you have been charged with this crime, our Austin criminal defense team may be able to help you. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas Death Row Inmate Gets New Hearing Because Attorney Refused to Present Defense

By Peek & Toland on February 28, 2018

A death sentence may be challenged if incorrect procedures were following during a trial. Recently, a Texas death row inmate was granted a new sentencing hearing because his lawyer refused to present a defense during part of his trial a decade ago.

The case illustrates the importance of an effective criminal defense to protect the rights of the accused.

Hector Medina was convicted of capital murder in Dallas County nine years ago over the shooting of his eight-month-old daughter and three-year-old son in 2007, reported the Texas Tribune.

In October, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals allowed Medina a new sentencing hearing. He will fight for a sentence of life without parole, an alternative to the death penalty.

Texas Death Row Inmate Receives New Trial

Texas Death Row Inmate Will Receive a New Trial

Although Medina is not arguing his innocence, the court ruled he was denied a fair trial. During the punishment phase of his capital murder trial when jurors weigh up whether a defendant should be put to death or face a term of life in prison, his lawyer refused to present a case.

The Tribune reported the trial was delayed. One juror was injured and another left to witness the birth of his grandchild.

Judges at the Court of Criminal Appeals accused the lawyer of intentionally torpedoing the case.

Several of the attorney’s witnesses were due to fly in from other states and out of the country. They could not coordinate to arrive at a newly scheduled date.

Medina is an undocumented migrant from El Salvador. He family members were set to testify on his behalf. The court refused to reschedule during the original hearing.

The failure of the attorney to present evidence at the sentencing hearing meant the court did not hear details about the trauma Medina suffered during El Salvador’s bloody civil war, a potential mitigating factor for the death penalty.

At Peek & Toland PLLC, we are well aware of the trauma and isolation that defendants who are charged with serious offenses such as murder and manslaughter face. These issues may be compounded when the defendant in question is an immigrant who is unfamiliar with the American legal system.

In recent months, a slew of inmates on Death Row in Texas have won new hearings.

Duane Buck, a prisoner on Texas’ Death Row was recently granted relief by the U.S. Supreme Court after his own attorney presented racially discriminatory witness evidence at his trial, noted the Death Penalty Information Center.

If you have been charged with a serious criminal offense, please call our Austin based criminal and immigration law firm at (512) 474-4445.


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Texas Battles Federal Ban on Import of Execution Drugs

By Peek & Toland on October 12, 2017

A shortage of execution drugs has delayed the death penalty in many states. Texas suffered a further setback in the spring when the federal government blocked its attempt to import execution drugs.

Texas is mounting a legal challenge against the move, The Texas Tribune reported. The state asked a federal judge to declare the ruling as unlawful.

Texas sought to import 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental into the United States in 2015. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled against Texas. The agency expressed concern that the drugs appeared to be misbranded and were unapproved.

The drugs were seized at an airport in Houston by the FDA which has held them ever since. The federal agency claims the import of the drug is illegal and it is not currently approved in the United States.

Texas challenges ban on execution drugs

Ban on execution drugs is fought in Texas

The FDA stated it notified Texas as well as the Arizona Department of Corrections, which was also seeking to obtain the execution drug that their attempted imports were refused. The drugs were either unapproved and misbranded. The FDA said they should be exported or destroyed within 90 days.

Texas has filed a lawsuit in the federal district court of southern Texas. It says the state will continue to import the execution drugs and it wants the court to step in.

The complaint claimed that the ruling hurts the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s reputation.

Why Texas Sued the FDA Over Execution Drugs

The FDA decided tentatively in April 2016 that the seized execution drugs could not be imported. No final decision was made until May. Texas launched a lawsuit over what it said was an “unreasonable delay” in deciding if the drugs could be delivered.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office would not allow the FDA to impair Texas’ responsibility to carry out its law enforcement duties.

The shortage of execution drugs can be traced back to 2009. In that year, the pharmaceutical company Hospira started experiencing problems in the manufacture of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in executions.

Anti-death penalty activists began alerting drug companies and governments across Europe that their drugs were being used in executions, leading Europeans companies to withhold them.

Currently Texas is one of just four U.S. states still carrying out executions, reported The Marshall Project.

The drug shortage is just one factor that’s led to a slowdown in executions. Texas leads the nation in terms of the number of executions but the treadmill has slowed down here and more cases are being held up in court.

If you have been charged with a serious offense like a homicide, it’s vital to received experienced criminal defense counsel as soon as possible. Call our Austin criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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Did Honduran Receive the Death Penalty in Texas Because He was an Unlawful Immigrant?

By Peek & Toland on August 29, 2017

A case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a disturbing defense claim. Lawyers for a Honduran claim he was handed the death penalty in Texas because he was living illegally in the state.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Texas death penalty case of Carlos Ayestas. The Honduran is arguing a federal appeals court made a mistake when it denied him resources to investigate and find evidence of mental illness and substance abuse.

His lawyers claim a jury would not have handed down the death penalty if it heard about his cocaine addiction and his mental problems.

Did unlawful status lead to death penalty in Texas?

Did Honduran receive death penalty in Texas because he was undocumented?

He was sentenced to death for the murder in 1995 of 67-year-old Santiaga Paneque during a home invasion in Houston.

State officials are dismissive of this speculation from the death row inmate’s defense team.

Ayestas along with two accomplices bound the woman with duct tape before beating her and strangling her to death, according to the state’s brief to the Supreme Court. Ayestas was convicted and sentenced to death two years after the killing.

Later a controversial memo surfaced in 2014. It showed the Harris County District Attorney initially cited one reason to pursue the death penalty in the Honduran’s case – his immigration status.

A report in the Texas Tribune stated almost 20 years after the verdict, Ayestas’ case will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

His attorneys claim he was denied his constitutional right to nondiscriminatory treatment and effective representation. Although the memo was raised, it’s a secondary factor in the case.

Ayestas is not the only death row inmate to claim his status as an undocumented immigrant landed him there.

A report in The Tribune claimed of 251 men and women languishing on Texas death row, 12 committed their crimes while in the country illegally.

Ayestas apparently traveled back and forth to Texas from Honduras several times. He  re-entered the country illegally in  1994. He ended up in Houston where he was arrested for misdemeanor theft in July 1995. He spent more than a week at the Harris County jail.

If you are arrested for a crime as an undocumented immigrant, it’s important to hire experienced legal representation as soon as possible. In many cases, an immigrant unlawfully in the United States will face deportation. For more serious crimes you could face deportation or even the death penalty.

Please call our experienced Austin immigrant lawyers for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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Supreme Court Rejects Racial Stereotyping in Death Penalty Cases

By Peek & Toland on July 14, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court has sent out one of the strongest messages to date about racial stereotyping in the criminal justice system, reopening the case of a black man who was sentenced to death in Texas.

The nation’s highest court considered the case of Duane Buck in February, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Buck was convicted of capital murder after the jury in his case was told African Americans are more likely than whites to commit crimes. The testimony came from a defense expert. It was relevant because the likelihood of a defendant to re-offend is a factor the jury considers in a capital murder case.

Racial stereotyping banned by Supreme Court

Supreme Court considered racial stereotyping

At the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said racial stereotyping has no place in a sentencing hearing. He said:

“Our laws punish people for what they do, not for who they are.”

The Supreme Court decided to re-open Buck’s cases in a 6-2 decision. The justices criticized the Texas authorities for declining to give a new sentencing hearing to Buck.

Buck is from Houston. He was convicted of shooting and killing his former girlfriend and seriously injuring her new boyfriend more than 20 years ago.

The comments of a defense expert made the case controversial. Although Buck was found guilty of murder, as the jury deliberated on his fate, members heard from a defense expert who detailed statistics showing blacks are more likely to commit subsequent crimes than whites.

The jury sentenced Buck to death after hearing the expert testimony.

Supreme Court Takes Stance Against Racial Stereotyping

In the case of Buck vs. Davis, the nation’s high court said it was a mistake for the jury to consider the expert’s purported statistics. Roberts said when a jury is considering a question of life or death, racial prejudice has no place.

The Supreme Court sent Buck’s case back to a court in Texas to reconsider the death sentence.

While Texas state attorneys set aside the death penalties of six other black defendants after the juries heard evidence containing racial stereotypes, they refused to reopen Buck’s case, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas gave dissenting opinions. Thomas argued Buck was properly sentenced to death for a brutal murder.

If you are charged with murder, you are more likely to face the death penalty in Texas than in any other state. At Peek & Toland , we offer a vigorous defense to murder in Texas. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Does the Death Penalty Apply to People with Disabilities? Supreme Court to Decide Texas Case

By Peek & Toland on May 3, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court has been considering the impact of the death penalty on the disabled at a time when the future of the ultimate sanction is in question.

An article in Baptist Press noted how the nation’s highest court is mulling the case of Bobby James Moore, a man with mental disabilities who received the death penalty for a murder he committed in 1980 at store in Houston, Texas.

His attorneys are arguing he cannot be executed because he is intellectually disabled and the execution of people with disabilities is contrary to a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. His case was heard at the end of November.

In the case of Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court reached an important stance on the issues of the execution of inmates with intellectual disabilities.

The justices said executing an inmate with intellectual disability is in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unjust punishments.”

U.S. Supreme Court to address disabilities and the death penalty

Does the death penalty apply to people with mental disabilities”

However, the court left it up to individual states to define mental disability.

During oral arguments in November, Moore’s legal team cast Texas as out of step with the rest of the country. They said the state departs from current clinical standards to diagnose intellectual disability. That definition is said to date back to 1992.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals didn’t buy the argument. The judges said Moore showed enough mental acumen to suggest he was not sufficiently intellectually disabled to be exempt from capital punishment.

Both sides agreed he had a harrowing childhood. He was beaten by his father and kicked out of home at the age of at 14.

Depending on the decision, the U.S. Supreme Court could further undermine the death penalty.

Already executions are down across the country, based on a variety of factors.

The Texas Standard noted public support is falling for executions. In the late 1990s, the Pew Research Center noted support for the ultimate sanction was 78 percent.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, alluded to a poll last year that showed support was at a mere 49 percent.  He highlighted a recent poll taken in Houston that showed only 27 percent of respondents thought the death penalty was an appropriate response for murder.

Outside of Los Angeles, Harris County has produced more death sentences than anywhere else in the country.

If you have been charged with murder in Texas, you will face a very serious penalty and may end up on death row. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys provide vigorous representation for a murder charge. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Why Does Texas Lead the Nation for Executions?

By Peek & Toland on June 17, 2016

Texas has the dubious distinction of executing the most inmates in the country. It’s not even a close call. Since 1976, Texas carried out 537 executions of death row prisoners. Oklahoma, the second placed state, ended the lives of 112 in the same period, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

When the Supreme Court lifted its ban on executions in 1976, Texas quickly jumped on the bandwagon. It executed 167 people by the end of 1978.

Texas carries out the most executions

Some of the reasons why Texas executes more inmates than any other state are detailed in a recent PBS Frontline report. The article is based on a paper published by Houston law professor Brent Newton. They include:

1 Texas Does Not Have a Public Defenders System

While many states have public defenders, Texas relies on court-appointed lawyers who often lack experience in capital murder defenses or appeals. It is more difficult for defendants to avoid the death penalty than in a system with public defenders.

2 Judges Are Elected

Appellate judges in the Lone Star State are elected to office, which means they are more accountable to those that elect them. There is considerable pressure to show their toughness with criminals and handing down the ultimate sanction, is often beneficial to their election prospects.

3 Texas Has a More Streamlined Execution System

The system that leads to the execution chamber is dogged with delays and procedural issues in many states. Texas has worked ways of getting around many of these. A law enacted in 1995 expedited state appeals, reducing the time between conviction and execution.

4 Texas Fails to Allow Mitigating Factors to be Considered

Newton’s report stated Texas courts are often reticent about allowing mitigating evidence like the age of a defendant or a mental illness when considering capital charges.

California Has More Death Row Inmates but Fewer Executions

The approach of Texas when it comes to executions is very different from that of California which has the most inmates on death row – 745 but has only executed 13 since 1976.

If you have been charged with capital murder, you are more likely to be executed in Texas than anywhere else in the country. See our page about facing a murder charge in Texas, here. Although the use of the death penalty has decreased here in recent years, in line with a national trend, Texas still executes more people than any other state.

If you are charged with a homicide offense, you should be aware that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, and you have to be very careful about what you say. Never give up any evidence that can later be used against you, including your own words. Consult a Texas criminal defense attorney before speaking to the police. Contact Peek & Toland today, and we will safeguard your rights and deal promptly with your case.

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Why Mexican Woman Won’t Face Death Penalty over Alleged Killing of Dallas Dentist

By Peek & Toland on June 14, 2016

A Mexican woman was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list briefly last month before she was captured and charged with the murder of a Dallas dentist. Even if she is convicted she won’t face the death penalty.

Mexican authorities captured Brenda Delgado, 33 at a house in Torreón, in Coahuila state last month. She was wanted in connection with the killing of a pediatric dentist in a parking garage.

Prosecutors allege Delgado’s jealousy led to the fatal shooting of dentist Kendra Hatcher at a parking garage in Dallas last year.

FBI will not call for death penalty for Brenda Delgado

The Mexican attorney general’s office said Brenda Delgado, 33, was captured at a house in Torreón, in Coahuila state, reported CNN.  She was held at the Santa Martha Acatitla prison in Mexico City pending extradition proceedings.

Media reports said she was only the ninth woman to appear on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list since it was set up in the 1950s.

The FBI offers rewards of around $100,000 for information leading to the capture of America’s most wanted fugitives.

Delgado was placed on the list at the start of April for allegedly plotted the death of Hatcher, who was dating her former boyfriend at the time. Investigators say she fled to Mexico after she arranged for accomplices to kill her love rival.

Death Penalty is Unlikely for Delgado

Although the crime could warrant execution if Delgado is found guilty, it appears she won’t face the death penalty. At a news conference before Delgado’s arrest, Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk said she could not seek the death penalty if Delgado was caught in Mexico and extradited to the United States because Mexico is opposed to it. Delgado faces a life sentence in prison if she is convicted.

Nevertheless, Mexico’s opposition to the death penalty has not stopped Texas executing Mexican nationals and those from other countries in recent years.

In 2014, Texas executed Edgar Arias Tamayo for the murder of a Houston police officer, despite what the Guardian newspaper described as an “international outcry and warnings that his death could damage relations between the US and Mexico.”

In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that about 50 Mexicans who were being held on death row in the US had not been properly informed of their consular rights.  The court ordered the US to carry out a review and reconsider each conviction and sentence.

George W Bush, the president at the time of the ruling, said every state should comply but Texas successfully argued before the US supreme court in four years later that the presidential order was not binding because it was not backed up with legislation from Congress.

If you are facing a murder charge in Texas, the consequences will be very severe. It’s important to hire experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys.

Our lawyers are geared to help immigrants who are charged with crimes and may not understand their rights. Contact our office so as we can inform you of your rights at (512) 474-4445.

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