Albert Holland Jr., a death row inmate in Florida, has no legal training and seems to be suffering from a mental illness — “perhaps a disorder involving paranoia or delusional thoughts,” a federal judge wrote recently.Wait, why would the two be mutually exclusive? (bah dum bump)
But he turns out to be a pretty good lawyer.
Two years ago, in allowing Mr. Holland a fresh chance to make his case after his court-appointed lawyer blew a crucial deadline, the Supreme Court praised Mr. Holland’s legal acumen. Indeed, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote, Mr. Holland had had a better understanding of the complicated time limits for challenging death sentences in federal court than his lawyer had.
Mr. Holland made good use of the opportunity the Supreme Court gave him. A couple of weeks ago, he won a decision granting him a new trial. In the process, he opened a window on the astoundingly spotty quality of court-appointed counsel in capital cases.
The lawyer whose work the justices had considered was the least of it; he had merely been unresponsive and incompetent. Mr. Holland’s earlier lawyers had failed him in much more colorful ways.
Consider Kenneth Delegal, who was assigned to defend Mr. Holland at a 1996 retrial on charges that he had killed a Pompano Beach police officer in 1990. Mr. Delegal was removed from the case after being sent to a mental health facility. Later, the two men would see each other at the Broward County jail, where Mr. Delegal was held on drug and domestic violence charges.
Can you imagine? "What's up brother? I'm not coming to visit you, I'm sharing a cell!"
Students are always so surprised that death penalty cases, rather than guaranteeing the best lawyers to turn out, often end up being assigned to the absolute dregs of the earth of the legal profession. Lawyers with alzheimers, lawyers drunk at the defense table, lawyers who have been disbarred already...the end is listless, as they say.
If the government is going to kill people in this country on our behalf, can we at least get better representation?