: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at

Casewatching United States v. Geoffrey Fieger

Norm Pattis has been covering the Geoffrey Fieger trial in Detroit which, in closing argument, famed trail lawyer Gerry Spence has called his last. From the start to the farewell – well almost, the jury’s still out as of this writing – Pattis has given us a unique look at Spence, familiarizing the legendary. Spence, for the uninitiated is as famous as a trial lawyer gets – his representation of Randy Weaver is haunting. Of his many books, Win Your Case is worth a read if only for how different a trial lawyer can be from how you think he is. If there were awards for blog threads, this would top my nominations.

Houston Law Review Article on Death Penalty Profiled in New York Times

The New York Times’ Adam Liptak highlights a forthcoming article from the Houston Law Review in today’s A New Look at Race When Death Is Sought. In Racial Disparities in the Capital of Capital Punishment, Scott Phillips of the University of Denver makes a surprising finding in analysis of death penalty statistics.

A new study to be published in The Houston Law Review this fall has found two sorts of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty there, one commonplace and one surprising.

The unexceptional finding is that defendants who kill whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill blacks. More than 20 studies around the nation have come to similar conclusions.

But the new study also detected a more straightforward disparity. It found that the race of the defendant by itself plays a major role in explaining who is sentenced to death.

We were excited about this particular piece when it first came in, but obviously this kind of attention exceeds those expectations. Our incoming editing staff deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Congrats y’all.

Stephanie Cecere, editor-in-chief of the Houston Law Review, will enter her final year at the University of Houston Law Center this fall. She expects excitement about her publication to pick up about the same time. That’s when the journal will publish an article by Scott Phillips, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver. After studying Harris County death penalty statistics, he found that — all other factors, such as the type of crime committed, being equal — a black defendant is more likely to be sentenced to death than a white defendant in Harris County.

Tex Parte Blog: Running the numbers

Thompson on Eyewitness Identification Testimony

Houston Law Prof Sandra Guerra Thompson (my own crim law prof) has posted a new paper, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?: Reconsidering Uncorroborated Eyewitness Identification Testimony, to SSRN, publication forthcoming at UC Davis Law Review.

Pointing out that “eyewitnesses identify a known wrong person (a “filler” or “foil”) in approximately twenty percent of all real criminal line-ups” and that “erroneous eyewitness identifications are by far the leading cause of convicting the innocent,” Thompson notes that courts nevertheless treat eyewitness testimony with a presumption of reliability that seems unfounded.

Given that background, there are disturbing statistical gaps – the percentage of exonerations on the basis of DNA evidence, mostly rape cases, suggests that in cases in which there is seldom DNA evidence (robbery, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, etc.) there is a false positive rate that remains unknowable but is likely much higher than it should be. Thompson asserts that “if DNA evidence were available in robbery cases, we would likely have an additional four times the numbers of individuals exonerated to date, and these would only include cases dating back about twenty years.

The solution is a corroboration element for the eyewitness identification of strangers -

A simpler and more effective approach to systemic reform would shift the focus away from what the police do or fail to do in gathering evidence, and focus instead on changes to the rules of criminal procedure that govern the sufficiency of evidence for conviction…. exclud[ing] from those cases in which victims and culprits knew each other prior to the date of the crime.

A corroboration requirement operates at the investigative stage, making it incumbent on police investigators to continue their investigations even after obtaining a positive identification.

Rick Casey is going away for a long, long time

Rick Casey’s column Who I’ll hire if I’m caught in today’s Houston Chronicle caught my eye for this rather stultifying comment –

Renowned defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said last fall she did just that when, based on circumstantial evidence, she won the conviction of David Mark Temple for killing his wife.

“Kelly Siegler has finally done what Richard Haynes predicted she would do,” said DeGuerin, who represented Temple. “She has convicted an innocent man.”

That’s what I want in an attorney. I figure if she can convict an innocent man, she can keep me out of trouble.

I don’t know what’s more appalling about that statement – the Lykos-esque logic or the idyllic notion of courtroom reality it reveals – that defense attorney Kelly Siegler would receive the same kind of treatment she has enjoyed as a prosecutor and that in fact, the craft of prosecuting and defending are interchangeable if not the same. Hire Kelly Seigler were to represent me? I guess that would happen only if by some snowballs chance she were assigned my case as the last public defender on earth – at which point we would know the apocalypse was upon us and then well hell, why not?

More on the Proposed Public Defender Office in Harris County, Texas

Interested parties are swallowing this news with a healthy dose of skepticism, but the County Commissioners Court took a step closer to the creation of a Public Defender Office in Harris County by approving the commission of a study on the financial impact of establishing a PD office. The report is expected in September.

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