Justice Wade Defends Three-Tiered Death Penalty Appeal Process

Today, one of Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices defended the state’s process for handling death penalty appeals.

Justice Gary Wade testified before a legislative committee charged with reviewing the way Tennessee administers the death penalty. He’s the only justice to have previously served on the Criminal Court of Appeals, one of two courts that review capitol cases before passing them on to the state’s high court.

Some say the death penalty cases go before too many judicial bodies, causing redundancies that are unnecessarily slow. But Justice Wade defended the system when questioned by Representative Bill Dunn.

Dunn: “When it comes to the appeals process, there’s a whole lot of states, probably half of them, that go straight to the supreme court. Are we seeing a greater number of innocent people being executed in those states?”

Wade: “Any answer I give is speculative, but doesn’t it make sense that if there’s a three tiered process that is trial, intermediate court, supreme court review, that there’s a better chance of correction of any errors that may have taken place in the trial process?”

Justice Wade also said that because the lower courts edit cases down to their key issues, the supreme court is able to carefully focus its deliberations.

Wade says there will always be tension between the need for expediency and for careful deliberation. He says the judicial branch has been systematically reviewing its procedures, looking for tweaks that can speed things up without sacrificing due process.

The committee also heard recommendations from attorney Barry Scheck, founder of the Innocence Project, a national organization that works to overturn convictions that are believed to be mistakes. He suggested the state adopt more specific standards for the way law enforcement agencies build their cases and for the way the judicial branch handles evidence once a case is over.

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