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April 2, 2008

Interesting (quasi-sentencing?) rulings from the Ninth Circuit

Thanks to fellow bloggers, I see that the Ninth Circuit has released two interesting opinions today in cases that may interest sentencing fans even though that are not technically about sentencing:

April 2, 2008 at 05:49 PM | Permalink


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Can someone explain why states fight the requests for DNA so vehemently?

"As it turns out, however, Osborne’s case for disclosure is so strong on the facts that his proposed legal standard, which would give him the benefit of both the presumption of innocence and the requirement of jury unanimity for conviction, sets the bar far lower than what he is able to show in this case. Wherever the bar is, he crosses it. This case therefore does not require us to determine the full breadth of post-conviction Brady rights. The precise height at which the materiality bar should be set is largely an academic question, which we may leave to another day and another case that truly presses the issue. Resolving the instant case requires us to determine only that Osborne’s showing of materiality is sufficient to require disclosure, and not whether the same due process right might be invoked upon a lesser showing." (p. 3386)

As previously mentioned at SL&P here there is a study by Brandon L. Garrett, Judging Innocence (ssrn) that doesn't shine a pretty light on the process.

"This empirical study examines for the first time how the criminal justice system in the United States handled the cases of people who were subsequently found innocent through postconviction DNA testing. The data collected tell the story of this unique group of exonerees, starting with their criminal trials, moving through levels of direct appeals and habeas corpus review, and ending with their eventual exonerations. Beginning with the trials of these exonerees, this study examines the leading types of evidence supporting their wrongful convictions, which were erroneous eyewitness identifications, forensic evidence, informant testimony, and false confessions. Yet our system of criminal appeals and postconviction review poorly addressed factual deficiencies in these trials. Few exonerees brought claims regarding those facts or claims alleging their innocence. For those who did, hardly any claims were granted by courts. Far from recognizing innocence, courts often denied relief by finding errors to be harmless. Criminal appeals and postconviction proceedings brought before these exonerees proved their innocence using DNA testing yielded apparently high numbers of reversals—a 14% reversal rate. However, that reversal rate was indistinguishable from the background reversal rates of comparable rape and murder convictions. Our system may produce high rates of reversible errors during rape and murder trials. Finally, even after DNA testing was available, many exonerees had difficulty securing access to testing and ultimately receiving relief. These findings all demonstrate how our criminal system failed to effectively review unreliable factual evidence, and as a result, misjudged innocence."

Posted by: George | Apr 2, 2008 8:46:16 PM

Also, there is a list of articles and papers at the Actual innocence awareness database.

Posted by: George | Apr 2, 2008 8:58:44 PM

"Can someone explain why states fight the requests for DNA so vehemently?"

Because they want to irritate you, George.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 2, 2008 9:45:27 PM

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