CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Texas Law's Capital Punishment Clinic Wins 5th Cir. Victory

Congratulations to the Capital Punishment Clinic at Texas Law.  The clinic won punishment-phase relief from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in a capital case last Wednesday, March 1.

The Fifth Circuit ruled that Robert Tennard's death sentence could not stand because of the failure of the sentencing instructions to permit consideration of his 67 I.Q. The Clinic had previously taken Tennard's case to the U.S. Supreme Court when the Fifth Circuit had ruled that Tennard's claim did not merit an appeal. The Supreme Court reversed the denial of the appeal, and Wednesday's decision was a ruling on the merits of that appeal.

Professors Rob Owen and Jordan Steiker from the University's Capital Punishment Clinic, along with co-counsel Dick Burr, litigated the case both in the U.S. Supreme Court and in the Fifth Circuit. Many students had assisted in this effort, and several had traveled to the U.S. Supreme Court with Owen and Steiker in the earlier litigation. Owen had argued the case in the U.S. Supreme Court and Steiker argued the case when it returned to the Fifth Circuit.

In an odd coincidence, the Clinic's other recent Supreme Court victory was also addressed on remand Wednesday. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief to Laroyce Smith, holding that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision finding error in his case did not warrant relief because Smith had not shown sufficient harm resulting from the error. In Smith's case, the Supreme Court had found that the sentencing instructions prevented jurors from considering Smith's difficult background, low I.Q., and learning disabilities.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' decision on Wednesday appeared to take issue with the Supreme Court's holding, stating that jurors could in fact give effect to Smith's evidence. Steiker indicated that Smith's case will be again presented to the Supreme Court in light of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' ruling." [Mark Godsey]

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