Monday, May 24, 2010

Congratulations, Hank Skinner

I am pleased to info you that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear Hank Skinner's petition for a writ of certiorari.

I watched it as it was announced on SCOTUSblog. I found one story so far that has beat me to the posting punch. I'm not sure how they did that, but I don't really care. I'm pleased for Hank Skinner, his family, his defense team, and all those concerned that we are incarcerating, even executing innocent people.

Here's what this means. First and foremost, Texas will not be able to execute Hank Skinner until the Supremes have ruled on his petition. That petition will not be argued until their next session, some time next fall.

If the Supremes at that point decline to issue a writ, Texas will be free to proceed with the execution. It will take Texas a minimum of a month to do so, because their law requires one month between the signing of the death warrant and executing the prisoner.

If the Supremes issue a writ of certiorari, it will instruct a court somewhere (I'm not sure which court) to hear Skinner's case that refusing to test or release all potentially probative DNA material before executing him would violate his civil rights.

In either case, the decision today means that Hank's case will still be active as Rick Perry is fighting to remain governor.  Given that Perry is already trying to muzzle the commission investigating the Todd Cameron Willingham investigation, this will put additional pressure on Perry.

We'll have to see how it all plays out.

The Court's complete order list for today is here. Search it for the brief paragraph regarding Hank. I count 6 motions for writ granted, 174 denied.


The Brandi Grissom of the Texas Tribune has been following the Hank Skinner case for a while. Her post on this morning's developments is here.  She has a quote from Rob Owen, Hank's attorney.
That decision represents the necessary first step to our eventually obtaining the DNA testing that Mr. Skinner has long sought. We look forward to the opportunity to persuade the Court that if a state official arbitrarily denies a prisoner access to evidence for DNA testing, the prisoner should be allowed to challenge that decision in a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Rob Owen clarifies where I confused. I said I wasn't sure which court might be required by the Supremes to hear Hank's civil rights case. Hank is claiming a violation of his federal civil rights, so the case would of course be heard in a federal court rather than a Texas court. Beyond that qualification, I'm not sure which court would be instructed to hear Hank's case should the Supremes issue the requested writ of certiorari.