AUSTIN, Texas—The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday (April 25) in favor of three death-sentenced inmates represented by the Capital Punishment Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law.
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The three inmates, Laroyce Smith, Brent Brewer and Jalil Abdul-Kabir, had all challenged their convictions on the ground that the sentencing instructions given at their trials failed to permit meaningful consideration of their mitigating evidence.
Law Professors Rob Owen and Jordan Steiker of the School of Law represented the inmates with the assistance of numerous students enrolled in the Law School’s death penalty clinic. Professors Maurie Levin and Jim Marcus of the clinic assisted on the cases, supervising students in research projects and coordinating the voluminous filings to the Court.
With these three decisions, the Capital Punishment Clinic has now won five consecutive victories in the Supreme Court over the past three years.
“These three decisions confirm that the Supreme Court’s death penalty jurisprudence is not optional or advisory to the Texas courts and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Steiker said. “The victories are bittersweet, though, in light of the numerous inmates with similar claims who have already been executed. We are gratified that the Supreme Court has restated in unequivocal terms its commitment to full consideration of mitigating evidence in capital cases.”
“The lower courts have dragged their feet in acknowledging and enforcing prior Supreme Court decisions regarding individualized sentencing in Texas capital cases,” Owen said.
“The Court today expressed understandable frustration at such needless delay, issuing a stinging rebuke to the Fifth Circuit for its failure ‘to heed the warnings that have repeatedly issued from this Court’ regarding the deficiencies of the former Texas sentencing instructions. It is to be hoped that the Fifth Circuit and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will swiftly move to order re-sentencing for the remaining Texas prisoners unfairly sentenced under the pre-1991 scheme.”
Steiker said the three decisions “could result in life sentences or resentencing for the inmates involved in these cases, and will likely result in reversals of death sentences for others on death row in Texas.”
The U.S. Supreme Court announced last fall it was granting “certiorari” (or review of a lower court’s decision on the merits) in three death penalty cases filed by the Capital Punishment Clinic. Assisted by students and faculty co-counsel, law professors Owen and Steiker argued those cases (Smith v. Texas, Brewer v. Quarterman and Addul-Kabir v. Quarterman) before the Court in January.