by John H. Blume, Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques; Director of Clinical, Advocacy and Skills Programs; Director, Cornell Death Penalty Project, Cornell Law School
The Sixth Amendment provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall … have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” The right to counsel encompasses the right to an attorney -- a qualified attorney. Not, for instance, one who has been disbarred and prohibited from practicing law.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened to TaiChin Preyor, who is scheduled for execution in Texas on July 27. Mr. Preyor was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005 for a murder in San Antonio. Mr. Preyor’s trial counsel, however, did not properly investigate known red flags regarding his background, including the violence and sexual abuse Mr. Preyor experienced as a child. These formative experiences are not an excuse, but this mitigation evidence, and other critical details about Mr. Preyor’s childhood, could have persuaded at least one juror to vote for a life sentence, rather than death.