ACLU Praises Supreme Court Refusal of 'Sleeping Lawyer' Case As 'Acknowledgment and Reminder' of Death Penalty Problems

June 3, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – This morning the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Texas authorities who claimed that a man received adequate representation from a lawyer who slept through portions of his trial, which was tainted with anti-gay bias.

Calvin Burdine’s 1984 conviction was overturned three years ago because his public defender slept through substantial portions of the trial and the sentencing phase. The American Civil Liberties Union’s brief in the appeal also argued that the trial was tainted with homophobia from the prosecutor, from Burdine’s court-appointed lawyer and from the jury.

During Burdine’s trial, the prosecution argued that life imprisonment is a less severe punishment for homosexuals than for heterosexuals. “”Sending a homosexual to the penitentiary certainly isn’t a very bad punishment for a homosexual, and that’s what he’s asking you to do,”” the prosecutor said in the final moments of his closing argument.

Following is a statement issued this morning from Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project:

“”All along, this case has been a stark illustration of what’s wrong with the capital punishment system.

“”While a judge and jury weighed whether Calvin Burdine should live or die, his court-appointed lawyer slept. Rather than seeking a fair trial and ensuring that Burdine have the basic representation our Constitution guarantees, the State of Texas went all the way to the Supreme Court to say that a sleeping lawyer was good enough.

“”We are pleased that the court declined to intervene in this case. The court’s refusal to hear this case is both an acknowledgment and a reminder that the death penalty system is rife with problems.

“”Life or death decisions should not hinge on whether someone is rich or poor, black or white, or gay or straight. That’s what happened in this case – and it happens in countless others.

“”The fact that Texas prosecutors can assert that a sleeping lawyer is adequate representation in a capital case is more evidence of a systematic problem that should be examined. Texas should impose a moratorium on executions until this and other fundamental questions of fairness can be addressed.””

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