Judge Petitions Arkansas Supreme Court For Power To Hear Death Penalty Cases

Jun 25, 2019

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen has petitioned the Arkansas State Supreme Court to reinstate his power to hear cases involving the death penalty.
Credit courts.arkansas.gov

A Pulaski County circuit judge has petitioned the Arkansas Supreme Court to restore his power to hear and decide civil and criminal cases concerning the death penalty, capital punishment and the method of execution.

As reported previously by KUAR News, the state Supreme Court stripped Judge Wendell Griffen’s power to consider cases involving the death penalty after an ethics complaint was filed against him. Griffen’s participation in an anti-death penalty demonstration in April of 2017 led to the complaint. On June 12 of this year, the ethics complaint was dropped, with officials saying too much time had passed between the complaint’s filing date and the case being heard.

When the complaint was dismissed, Griffen told KUAR "There is no suspicion and therefore there is no excuse for the Supreme Court of Arkansas to continue to bar me from hearing and deciding cases involving the death penalty." He also called for the court to reinstate his power to review said cases.

The petition, filed Monday, states the Supreme Court indefinitely and immediately reassigned all of Griffen’s cases involving the death penalty, without notice to Griffen. The petition also states "no white member of the Arkansas judiciary has ever been summarily banned from hearing and deciding an entire category of cases."

The petition lists the following arguments for his reinstatement:

  • The dismissal of the ethics case means the discipline for it is no longer valid.
  • The punishment for a judge’s participation in a religious protest is unjust compared to the lesser punishments white judges received when breaking the law.
  • Removing Griffen from capital cases violates the Hunt decree, which requires that "judges serving in the majority black voter judicial subdistricts identified in that decree shall exercise the same powers of all other judges."
  • His removal from cases involving capital punishment "deprives" citizens of "their choice of an elected judge from hearing all the matters heard by Circuit Judges under the Arkansas Constitution."

A news release sent from the Laux Law Group, Porter Law Firm and Foley and Lardner, says since Griffen’s ban was instituted in April of 2017, “seventeen capital cases have bypassed him and gone instead to other judges.” The petition also states they anticipate hearing a response from the Supreme Court in 45-60 days.

You can read the full petition here. 

This is a developing story.