Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | April 27, 2014

Miscellaneous Law Links for Sunday

Well, it’s been a big couple of weeks for muddled, convoluted, wishy-washy opinions by Anthony Kennedy.

Some links for your consideration:

1. In Baltimore, arestees are waiting days — or even weeks — for an initial appearance before a magistrate, who can then set bail. Some stats from the Baltimore Sun: “In the 205 cases initiated last year by the office of State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, 20 percent of defendants waited more than five days for an initial appearance in court, according to a Baltimore Sun review. One man waited nearly two months.” (H/T: Gideon.)

2. (Retired) Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens thinks that Congress should legalize marijuana. (H/T: Doug Berman.)

3. (Retired) Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb thinks that Alabama should reform its harsh sentencing laws.

4. South Carolina state Sen. Vincent Sheheen is a Democrat running for governor in that state. The Republican Governors Association has released an ad attacking Sheheen for his work as a criminal defense attorney. At the Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan Adler explains why the ad is contemptible (emphasis added):

RGA spokesperson Jon Thompson defended the ad by commenting, “Vincent Sheheen made a deliberate choice to defend violent criminals who abused women and children. He is unfit and unprepared to serve as governor of South Carolina.” Of course, should Thompson ever be accused of a crime — even, perhaps especially, wrongfully accused — I am sure he’d sing a different tune.

Representing unpopular causes or clients is never easy, but it is necessary. Organized efforts to blunt the careers of those who take on such efforts are shameful. It would be one thing if Sheheen were accused of unethical conduct in his representation of his clients. It is quite another to attack him for defending those who, however horrific their crimes, needed a legal defense. A lawyer is responsible for his or her own conduct, and is not responsible for the sins of the client.

Agreed.

(Sheheen got his bachelor’s from Clemson and his J.D. from South Carolina, but I suppose we shouldn’t hold those affiliations against him either, regardless of what we may think of, say, Steve Spurrier. And I suppose that’s probably an excellent academic pedigree if you’re running for office in the Palmetto State.)

5. Via Grits for Breakfast, we find that the Texas Observer has an engrossing feature story by Robyn Ross looking at the cemetery Texas uses for burying inmates who die in prison. An excerpt:

Of the roughly 450 inmates who die in Texas prisons each year, about 100 are laid to rest in Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery. Whether they die in one of the state’s 109 prison units, at the TDCJ hospital in Galveston, or at the prison system’s hospice facility near Palestine, the inmate’s family has the option to claim the body and make funeral arrangements of their choice. When family members can’t be located, or when they decline to claim the body, the state picks up the tab for the funeral and buries the body in TDCJ’s Byrd Cemetery.

The most common reason families don’t claim the body is that they can’t afford to, Chaplain Collier says. Some, like the family that attended today’s visitation at Grace Baptist Church, will decline to claim the body but then attend services in Huntsville. Prison funerals are generally held on Thursdays, unless the deceased has been executed, in which case the burial is often performed the following day; the accelerated schedule saves families who come to witness the execution from having to make a second trip to Huntsville. A typical Thursday may have one or two funerals. Collier says he’s done as many as nine in one day.

He estimates that 60 percent of the services he performs are directs. Sometimes next of kin can’t be located. Other families can’t afford to travel to Huntsville. “You’ve got some that may be in Amarillo, and to come down here is too much,” Collier says. “And I buried one last week that was 80-something years of age, and he probably outlived most of his family.”

If no family or friends attend, the inmates of the cemetery grounds crew stand witness in their stead. These “offenders,” as TDCJ calls them, typically don’t know the deceased, unless the person died at the Walls Unit.

“It’s humbling,” says Lawerence Lacour, 26, who digs graves and serves as a pallbearer. He’s done other manual labor in the four years he’s served on a drug-related sentence, but this is different. “Especially as a Christian, in this situation I think that I could myself die, because tomorrow’s not promised to anybody.”

The graveyard was originally known as “Peckerwood Hill,” an inmate slang term referring to its indigent occupants. It was renamed for an assistant warden at the Walls Unit who in the 1960s initiated a cleanup of the neglected grounds. Today, neat rows of grave markers—some flat stones, some crosses made of rebar-reinforced concrete—cover the gently sloping hill. The cemetery crew makes the markers onsite in a small shed. Some headstones include the inmate’s name and dates of birth and death. During the 1980s and ’90s the concrete crosses included only prison numbers and dates of death.

If the inmate was executed, the headstone bears the letters “X” or “EX,” or a prison number beginning “999”—the designation for death row.

Please do read the whole thing. This Flickr collection of photos of Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery is also worth your attention.

And then there’s this:

Jim Brazzil, who as Walls Unit chaplain officiated 600 inmate funerals between 1995 and 2001, remembers one funeral for an inmate he’d never met. After the service he asked if any of the roughly 15 people who’d come to the funeral wanted to share their thoughts about the deceased, and a young man said he would. “He walked up there beside me, looked at the grave, then at me, then at the people, and said, ‘Most of you know I’m only here to make sure the son of a bitch is dead,’” Brazzil says. “It gave him an opportunity to vent about his father.”

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