Monday, March 17, 2008

TN Death Row Inmate Receives New Trial

On March 7, 2008, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction and death sentence of Richard Taylor. The court's ruling grants Taylor a new trial due to a variety of constitutional errors at his original trial. These errors include the denial of his constitutional right to counsel at a pre-trial competency hearing, the failure of the trial court to hold a competency hearing during the trial, and the failure of the trial court to appoint advisory counsel. Taylor, who is severely mentally ill, was permitted to represent himself at trial, despite significant questions about his competency. [Source: Death Penalty Information Center]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has represented Taylor in the appeal of his conviction. Here are excerpts from the ACLU's press release:

"In 2003, Taylor, who was schizophrenic, delusional and heavily sedated by forced medication, faced his two-day capital trial alone – representing himself without even standby counsel to help him. Wearing prison garb and sunglasses, Taylor called no witnesses, introduced no evidence, and presented no defense. The few cross-examination questions he posed during the guilt-innocence phase of his trial were delusional, and he was completely silent during the sentencing phase of the proceedings. The jury that sentenced Taylor to death was never presented with compelling evidence of Taylor's difficult childhood, suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations or severe mental illness." ...

"The ACLU mounted numerous legal challenges to the trial and proceedings leading up to it, including the judge’s failure to hold a competency hearing during the trial when it was obvious that Taylor was incapable of standing trial and representing himself.

During a pre-trial hearing in which Taylor testified about why he should be allowed to represent himself, for example, Taylor made comments suggesting he believed he had previously died and come back to life, and that he alone was equipped to handle his capital trial. The appeals court faulted the trial court for concluding that Taylor knowingly and intelligently waived counsel when it accepted these statements without further questioning." ...

"Finally, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that Taylor’s death sentence was imposed in an arbitrary manner given the fact that the jury was not instructed to consider the evidence of mental disease or defect at the penalty phase of his trial."

Read the ACLU press release in its entirety:

Read an earlier post on the Taylor case.

Additional information about this case, including a copy of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruling can be found online at:

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