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March 01, 2008

Jurisdiction in Need: Texas

Texas is one of the epicenters of death penalty litigation in this country - in terms of both numbers of executions, and the creative litigation that is generated as a result. Not surprisingly, the situation in Texas presents particular and pressing needs. Although the state provides lawyers to represent inmates in their state habeas proceedings, the profound inadequacies of the representation actually provided often renders the provision of counsel more damaging than if no counsel had been appointed at all.

Despite the difficulties inherent to capital litigation in Texas, skilled attorneys and pro bono firms have been successful in winning relief for death sentenced inmates, and exposing the rampant problems in the system. Latham and Watkins obtained post-conviction relief for Ernest Willis, an innocent man who was released from Texas' Death Row in 2004. Dorsey and Whitney won sentencing phase relief for Joe Lee Guy after exposing misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. In numerous cases, law firms have spearheaded the creative litigation that has pushed the boundaries of capital jurisprudence in Texas. In fact, a significant number of the inmates who have obtained relief in Texas, have been represented by pro bono firms, as the skills and resources that a law firm provides often are essential to exposing the constitutional errors and wrongful convictions that are rife in Texas' death penalty system.