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Texas Death Row Inmate Entitled to Mental Health Investigation

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a lower appellate court should reconsider the request of Carlos Ayestas, a Texas death row inmate, for money to fully investigate his mental health issues. Information about a defendant’s mental and physical health normally is shared with jurors before they decide whether execution is an appropriate sanction. Public funds are available for low-income defendants in criminal cases to hire experts and investigators as needed. Despite Ayestas’ claims of schizophrenia, drug addiction, and brain injuries, however, his trial lawyers did not request funding for an expert or an investigator, and presented only one witness, a teacher at the Harris County Jail who described Ayestas as a serious and attentive student.

On appeal, Ayestas’ new lawyers sought public funds for a mitigation specialist, or an expert that could look into Ayestas’ mental health and medical history and provide evidence of any relevant conditions to jurors, but the court denied their request. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial of the request, stating a lack of “substantial need” for the investigator.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Circuit had used an incorrect and, arguably, higher standard in considering the denial of funds for an expert. According to the Court, federal law authorizes funding for “reasonably necessary” services of experts and investigators. Therefore, they remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit to reconsider the matter using the correct legal standard.

Ayestas’ lawyers are not arguing that Ayestas is not guilty of a 1995 murder. Rather, his lawyers are arguing that Ayestas should be granted a new punishment phase trial in order to properly consider mitigating evidence prior to finding that Ayestas should receive the death penalty.

Contacting an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible can be essential building a strong defense against the criminal charges that you are facing. Taking steps to fight criminal charges from the outset is often much simpler than waiting until the last minute and attempting to remedy the situation. Call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today, and learn what we can do to help you with your legal matter.

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