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Court to rule in Tenn. inmate's appeal

  Breaking Legal News  -   POSTED: 2008/06/24 11:25

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether poor death row inmates seeking mercy from state officials have a right to lawyers paid for by federal taxpayers.

The justices will likely hear oral arguments around the end of the year in the case of Edward Jerome Harbison, who was convicted in the 1983 beating death of an elderly woman in Chattanooga.

Federal appeals courts have taken different positions on the issue, making the case a good one for the court to resolve, the Bush administration said. The administration wants the justices to decide that federal law for indigent capital defendants does not extend taxpayer support to inmates' efforts to win clemency.

Separately, Harbison's execution is on hold after a federal judge ruled in September that Tennessee's three-drug lethal injection method amounted to cruel and unusual punishment because of the "substantial risk of unnecessary pain" to the inmate. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering that case, following the high court's decision in April that upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection in Kentucky.

Harbison asked in 2006 to expand the responsibilities of his federal public defenders to also represent him in state clemency proceedings if he lost his court challenges.

Justice Department lawyers have argued against Harbison's request. "There is no constitutional right either to clemency itself or to counsel to pursue it," Justice Department lawyers said in the filing.


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