High Court Says Federal Public Defenders Can Work on State Clemency Proceedings

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Tennessee inmate E.J. Harbison who had asked the court to allow his federal public defender to serve as his clemency counsel. Harbison, who is indigent, cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent him at clemency proceedings and requested that his federal public defender, who has worked on his case for years, continue to represent him.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Harbison saying that the law, “does not authorize federal compensation for legal representation in state matters.” The high court disagreed.

Several Governors and former Governors, including Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, joined Harbison in arguing that inmates should be given the best possible legal representation during clemency proceedings.

Tennessee death row inmate, Steve Henley, also raised this issue with the courts, requesting that his federal public defender serve as his clemency counsel. Henley was not given a stay of execution in order for a clemency hearing to proceed. Instead, he was executed on February 4, 2009.

Read more here.

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