Blog of Rights

Brian
Stull

Brian Stull is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. He has served as trial and appellate counsel in capital cases in North Carolina and Texas. Before joining the ACLU, Stull worked for five years at the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) in New York City, where he represented indigent criminal defendants convicted of serious felonies on direct appeal and in post-conviction and federal habeas corpus proceedings. Stull holds a B.A. and a M.S.W. from the University of Michigan and graduated cum laude from New York University School of Law.

The Importance of the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel in Capital Cases

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 5:09pm

A person does not need to go any farther than a Law & Order episode to understand the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We hear the officers on TV tell suspects that if they cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for them. The Framers of the Constitution made the statement more artfully when they wrote that the accused in every criminal prosecution “shall enjoy the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

In Gideon v. Wainright, the Supreme Court explained the importance of this right, stating, “[I]n our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” The right to counsel protects all of us from being subjected to criminal prosecution in an unfair trial. But nowhere is this right more important than when the accused faces the death penalty.

After 9 Years, Manuel Velez, an Innocent Man, is Free at Last

After 9 Years, Manuel Velez, an Innocent Man, is Free at Last

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 10:36am

At 12:32 p.m. ET, Manuel Velez, my client and an innocent man, stepped out of prison and into the Huntsville, Texas air a free man.

For nine years, Manuel has languished behind bars. What's ironic about watching him walk out of this particular…

Jerry Guerinot: Most Dangerous Defense Attorney Ever?

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 10:32am

An article in Monday's New York Times underscores an observation we have made before: one of the biggest predictors of who gets sentenced to death has nothing to do with relevant factors such as the heinousness of the crime, the culpability of the…

Death Penalty Maintains Racial Inequality

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 11:10am

The inauguration of Barack Obama, one day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, has prompted a healthy discussion in the nation about racial and socioeconomic inequality.

As part of that discussion it is important to point out that, just like the…

Death Row is Not a "Constitution-Free Zone"

Death Row is Not a "Constitution-Free Zone"

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 2:58pm

Alfredo Prieto sits alone 23 hours a day in a locked, seventy-square-feet box. The lights never go out.

According to trial records, Prieto grew up in tough circumstances in war-torn El Salvador, escaped with his family to California. He became…

Good and Bad Lawyers Determine Who Lives and Who Dies

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 12:46pm

In a separate post yesterday, I addressed how a person on death row's life can be decided on a technicality, an issue to be decided by the Supreme Court in Holland v. Florida. Today's post addresses another issue the Holland case raises —…

Rhode Island's Rightful Stand Against the Federal Government

Rhode Island's Rightful Stand Against the Federal Government

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 2:44pm

Last week, the Rhode Island ACLU announced its disappointment with a federal circuit court's decision overturning Gov. Lincoln Chafee's efforts to prevent the institution of federal death penalty charges against Jason Wayne Pleau, whom Rhode Island…

March Madness Takes on New Meaning When a Person's Skin Color is Cause For His Execution

March Madness Takes on New Meaning When a Person's Skin Color is Cause For His Execution

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 10:44am

Welcome to March Madness at the ACLU! We know you usually turn to other sources for this kind of coverage, but we've got something important to add. As you're filling out winning brackets, imagine this scenario: the tournament selection committee decides…

Texas Court Upholds Death Sentence of Innocent Man Although "There is Something Very Wrong" with Case Against Him

Texas Court Upholds Death Sentence of Innocent Man Although "There is Something Very Wrong" with Case Against Him

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 10:06am

With an opinion yesterday from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, ACLU client Max Soffar moves a step closer to an unjust execution.  And, little more than one year after the execution of Troy Davis, our system moves closer to another miscarriage…

The Empty Promise of Appointed Clemency Counsel in Texas

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 11:53am

Despite a recent Untied States Supreme Court decision protecting the rights of indigent death-row inmates seeking executive clemency, Texas has continued to execute people without pausing to give effect to the high court's ruling. As a result, Texas has executed two men — Michael Rosales and Derrick Johnson — who had made strong factual showings of mental retardation but were either not afforded a lawyer or were not allowed a full hearing on their claims.

On April 1, 2009, April Fool's Day, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Harbison v. Bell (PDF), deciding that federal law entitles indigent state death-row prisoners access to clemency counsel — a lawyer appointed by a federal district court to represent prisoners during executive clemency proceedings. The Supreme Court observed that clemency is the last "fail safe" where the judicial process has failed to prevent a "miscarriage of justice." The "fail safe" of clemency in Texas is of critical importance given that the appeals of death-row inmates too often are dismissed based on procedural problems — a defense lawyer filing an appeal late, for example — that are outside prisoners' control.

Harbison overruled various lower federal court decisions, including a 2002 decision that denied the right to appointed clemency counsel to Texas death-row inmates. Since 2002, Texas has executed 180 people denied the right the right to counsel the Harbison decision found was mandated by federal law. What's worse, Rosales and Johnson were executed after the Harbison decision, but without being afforded the protections the decision requires.

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