The United States Supreme Court issued its first major death penalty decision of the 2011-2012 term on January 18, 2012, in Maples v. Thomas. The Court found that Alabama death row prisoner Cory Maples was abandoned by his lawyers, and therefore his failure to file an appeal within the allotted time frame could be excused.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution on November 7, 2011, for Hank Skinner, a prisoner on Texas’s death row. For nearly a decade, Mr. Skinner has sought DNA testing of evidence found at the crime scene that could potentially prove his innocence.
On September 15, 2011, the United States Supreme Court issued a stay of execution in a capital case where race-based testimony may have improperly influenced the jury’s sentence. Duane Buck is an African-American man on death row in Texas. During the sentencing phase of Mr. Buck’s trial, a psychologist testified that the defendant’s race is a factor “know[n] to predict future dangerousness.”
The first hearing under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act (“RJA”) concluded on February 16, 2012. The RJA, signed into law in August 2009, allows a death row prisoner to challenge his sentence using evidence of systemic racial bias in the administration of the death penalty in North Carolina.
For the first time in the modern death penalty era, the governor of Delaware granted clemency to a death-sentenced prisoner. On January 15, 2012, the Delaware Board of Pardons recommended that Richard Gattis’s death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment without chance of parole.