29 June, 2004 – LAWFUEL – In a much publicized death penalty case, the United States Supreme Court this afternoon granted a stay of execution in the case of Texas inmate Mauro Barraza who was sentenced to death for a crime he committed when he was 17 years old. Jenner & Block Partner Scott T. Schutte and Associate Shana A. Shifrin are Mr. Barrazas lead attorneys in the effort to stay the execution, which was scheduled for just a few hours after the Supreme Court issued its ruling. The nations High Court will decide next term whether the execution juvenile offenders is constitutional.
“Our position all along has been that no matter what opinion you have about the death penalty in general or about the execution of juveniles in particular, it would have been absolutely inappropriate to go forward with the execution of a juvenile once the Supreme Court has said it will rule on this issue,” Mr. Schutte said. “We are ecstatic that the Supreme Court stepped in and stopped this execution when the Texas courts and the government of the State of Texas refused to do so. It would have been a tragedy of profound proportions to have this execution take place only to have the Supreme Court rule in a few months that it was unconstitutional.”
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Roper v. Simmons, in which the primary issue is whether it is constitutional to execute persons for crimes they committed when they were 17 years of age. Nevertheless, in February a trial court in Texas set Mr. Barraza’s execution date for June 29, 2004. Mr. Barraza’s court-appointed counsel did not attend the hearing, let alone object to the planned execution.
In March, Mr. Schutte and Ms. Shana Shifrin agreed to a request by the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project to represent Mr. Barraza in his efforts to stay his execution pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Simmons. Assisting in these efforts was the Texas Defender Service, a non-profit law firm which aims to improve the quality of representation afforded to indigent Texans charged with capital crimes.
On June 24, 2004, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Jenner & Block’s Motion to Stay the Barraza execution. Mr. Schutte and Ms. Shifrin then filed its pending Motion with the Supreme Court, which the State of Texas — through the office of the Texas Attorney General – opposed.
The Supreme Courts ruling came at approximately 2 p.m. CDT – just four hours before Mr. Barrazas execution was to have taken place. By that time, Texas officials had moved Mr. Barraza to the State’s execution facilities and made preparations to serve him with his last meal.