One Final Coakley Post

[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]

Dear Friend of Justice,

I have received many emails from good friends telling me why they will be voting for Martha Coakley tomorrow. I respect you and I respect your reasons.

I also respect those of you who will be voting for Scott Brown, Joseph Kennedy, or a write-in candidate. And I respect those of you who have decided to just stay home.

This is a difficult election. All we can do is cast — or not cast — our ballots thoughtfully.

The following excerpt from the document Frank Kane sent me concerns Coakley’s actions as Attorney General. It demonstrates that Coakley is firmly on the side of prosecutorial power and has little concern for the rights of defendants. But our courts are not level playing fields. While prosecutors are supposed to bear the burden of proof, it has now de facto become necessary for defendants to prove themselves innocent beyond doubt. Prosecutors are paid by the government as are any expert witnesses they use. Defendants must either raise enormous amounts of money — sometimes hundreds of thousdands of dollars — or rely on underpaid and overworked public defenders. And once a conviction occurs, it is next to impossible to have it reversed.

I find most troubling Coakley’s advocacy (in the name of the people of Massachusetts) for total prosecutorial immunity, even in cases where they deliberately frame innocent people. One reason we see so much injustice in our court system is that prosecutors have carte blanche and know they will not be held accountable for their misdeeds.

I will be so happy when this election is behind us. Here is the excerpt from Frank’s report:

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Coakley Signs On To Amicus Curiae Brief re Death Penalty and States’ Rights

On November 6, 2009, the Boston Globe published an article, titled, Death penalty foes rip Coakley for signing brief, citing facts in the case which involves an Alabama man, a convicted murderer.  The man, Holly Wood, has appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds his state-appointed lawyer failed to introduce crucial evidence that he, Mr. Wood, is mentally retarded.

Attorney General Coaikley, who says she is firmly against capital punishment, has drawn the ire of some death penalty opponents by urging the U.S. Supreme Court to limit federal review of state court decisions, which opponents say could make it harder for defendants on death row to challenge their sentences.

Coakley, along with 18 other states’ attorneys general, signed a friend-of-the court brief in September, 2009, asking that the nation’s highest court maintain restrictions on intervention by federal courts.  Death penalty opponents say if Coakley’s arguments prevail it could be more difficult for federal courts to overturn death sentences, as well as other criminal punishmnents, handed down in state courts.

“There’s no way this kid should be killed,” said Stephen B. Bright, president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, who also teaches at Yale and Georgetown Law schools.  “At the end of the day, if Alabama wins, this kid with an IQ in the 60s will be executed.”

Coakley and her aides argue that her signing the brief had nothing to do with the death penalty and that they were purely concerned with the legal implications of allowing federal courts more discretion in reviewing decisions that state courts have already made, which Coakley asserts would take additional time, money, and resources..

Coakley said that the brief she signed, though it is attached to a death penalty case, is limited in scope and is designed to address only the question of what role the federal courts should have in reviewing state court decisions.  She says the brief makes no mention of capital punishment.

“It’s definitely a death penalty case,” said Kerry Scanlon, Wood’s lawyer, “I was surprised to see that Massachusetts had signed onto this brief.”

At issue is the interpretation of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which in most instances bars federal reconsideration of legal and factual issues on which state courts have already ruled.  A Supreme Court ruling in Alabama’s favor could result in federal courts having to defer to state judgments in many instances.  Death penalty cases from the states are among those frequently challenged in federal court.

“If you’re concerned about the death penalty, than you have to be concerned about people being able to have their case reviewed in federal court,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama.  “The error rate, in my judgment, is shockingly high, so high that you want federal courts to be able to review these cases without a lot of restrictions.”

“In this case,” Stevenson added, “Mr. Wood will be executed in a matter of weeks….It is not theoretical in Alabama.”

In their brief, Coakley and other states that signed onto it argued that the decisions already made by state courts should not be over-ridden.  The brief states, in part, “States have the obligation to protect the finality of the judgments entered by their courts—–an obligation that is even more compelling when it involves criminal judgments.  Undoing finality in habeas corpus litigation in the federal courts can undermine the states’ interests in ensuring safety, deterring crime, and rehabilitating criminal offenders.”

[Note:  There’s that word again;—Finality.  Now, if only the states were infallibly correct in their investigations and trials, their convictions and rulings, and only guilty folks were ever found guilty, we wouldn’t  need any oversight, would we?  But that doesn’t appear to be so, not by a long shot.]

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Amicus against Two Iowa Men

Martha Coakley also joined in an amicus brief that advocates for total immunity for prosecutors in a case of two African American men from Iowa, having spent 25 years of their lives in prison, who’d been appealing their unjust conviction on the grounds they’d been framed by prosecutors for a murder they did not commit.  In November, 2009, the case was before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court against Accused’s Rights to Question Forensics

On November 10, 2008, Martha Coakley, as Atorney General, argued before the Court that requiring forensics scientists to testify at criminal trials where their reports are presented as evidence would place an undue burden on the state’s already-backlogged drug testing system.

The case centers on whether a defendant’s Sixth Amendment Right to confront witnesses against him applies to the admission of drug analysis certificates as evidence at criminal trials.  If it does, the analysts who prepare the reports could be required to provide live testimony in court.

The Justices pointed to California’s system, in which drug analysis certificates can be admitted as evidence only if the analyst who prepares the report testifies, or if the defense stipulates that the reports can be admitted without testimony.  When asked why Massachusetts couldn’t function under a similar system, Coakley said she was not familiar enough with the California system.

On June 6, 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to cross-examine forensic experts who prepare laboratory reports on illegal drugs and other scientific evidence used at trial.

The Innocence Project, a national advocacy group that has used DNA evidence to exonerate 240 convicted criminals, hailed the decision, which applies to state and federal courts across the country.  The group said that faulty forensic science contributed to about half of the wrongful convictions the organization has helped to reverse.

Coakley was criticized for her poor showing before the Court, from her trouble dealing with the question regarding California’s system and two other justices’ questions over distinctions between crime lab reports and eyewitness testimony.

She asserted that her performance has no bearing on her ability to advocate for Massachusetts in the Senate.