May 12, 2009
Charges dropped against Paul House of House v. Bell fame
This AP piece, headlined "Charges dropped against former TN death row inmate," provide the rest of the story of a notable SCOTUS case from a few years back. Here is how it starts:
Prosecutors dropped charges on Tuesday against a former inmate who spent two decades on Tennessee's death row before the U.S. Supreme Court questioned his guilt.
Prosecutors acknowledged in a surprise petition that new evidence raises doubts that Paul House acted alone in the 1985 death of a young mother and clouds his possible role. House, who spent 22 years on death row, has been under house arrest while awaiting a new trial.
May 12, 2009 at 02:06 PM | Permalink
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Looks like someone might get away with murder . . . .
Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2009 3:18:15 PM
Looks like the justice system worked.
Posted by: DEJ | May 12, 2009 4:22:26 PM
Paul was one vote away from getting killed. The system failed him. Habeas failed him. The Sixth Circuit failed him. And now even the prosecutor says they don't have a case against him, something many of us knew years ago.
Posted by: anon | May 12, 2009 4:57:26 PM
Well, yeah, I should have added the disclaimer: the justice system worked...just 20 years too late.
Posted by: DEJ | May 12, 2009 5:15:01 PM
Yeah, but a system that takes 20 years, and then only just barely with Justice Kennedy's fifth vote, is hardly what I'd call a system that worked. Remember, the state that has now exonerated him vigorously opposed him at every turn, including in the Supreme Court.
Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 12, 2009 5:23:00 PM
"exonerated"? I hardly think House is "exonerated". The victim's blood was on his jeans . . . . Now you may take issue with that, but if you're going to state that House didn't do it, then you are being certain about the lab spilling the blood, something which is by no means proven. Plus, there's his unexplained presence near the body and the inexplicable mud on his jeans. Hmmmmm.
I think a murderer is getting away with it. That's not something to exult in. Perhaps, this is the price we pay to make sure we don't convict the innocent, and that's fine to make that argument. But the state can hardly be faulted here.
Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2009 5:56:01 PM
"I think a murderer is getting away with it."
federalist is right for once. By insisting on going after House, the state now has a real murderer still free. That is the real outrage.
Posted by: . | May 12, 2009 6:12:51 PM
and you're so sure that House didn't do it? I guess you think OJ didn't kill Nicole and Ron Goldman too.
Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2009 6:55:31 PM
Speaking of claims of innocence, what's going on with Troy Davis? My guess is that the Supreme Court stays the execution while it reviews the case.
Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2009 7:52:02 PM
The "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard means there is roughly about an 80% chance the defendant is guilty. The roughly 20% innocence rate on death row corresponds well with that level of certainty. That standard applies to other criminal trials, and to plea bargains, no?
All torts immunities should end, those of the prosecutor, and those of the vile cult criminal on the bench. That a such an appallingly high failure rate, condemning innocents to death, is statutory means;
1) the tortfeasors have scienter;
2) the tortfeasors are doing nothing about it in any systematic manner; meaning they are taking no care whatsoever;
3) the indictment, and the guilty verdict are chattels, making them defective products, and product liability applies;
4) in its successful intended use, the false conviction will harm the innocent defendant, and strict liability applies;
5) the class of similarly situated, falsely convicted defendants justify a class declaration;
6) because freedom, earning ability, property have been taken away, because all criminal sanctions are procedures on the body, the deprivation of procedural due process rights is a constitutional tort, as well as a strict product liability tort, compounding the malfeasance, imagine a unlawful kidnapping.
If these torts take out a state, that would eliminate the cult criminals from the legislature and from the executive office. If the voters want to owe $billions, let them re-elect cult criminals to these highly responsible positions.
If the lawyer believes, torts deter and result in great improvements in products and in services, the criminal justice system is overly ripe for this remedy.
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 12, 2009 9:06:24 PM
Federalist: while obviously different people may choose to define it differently, here's my take on "exonerated": someone who has had his conviction overturned on the basis of newly discovered evidence of innocence who is then re-tried and acquitted or not re-tried.
In other words, the failure to re-convict such a person is what creates an exoneration. Just like the failure to convict someone in the first place makes them not guilty, or under our law, innocent.
Posted by: dm | May 12, 2009 9:58:11 PM
That's fine, dm, but understand that you are completely discounting the fact that sometimes people get away with it. And to the extent that House actually did it, the system's procedural liberality is being used to criticize it as overly harsh. There's not an insignificant amount of sophistry there.
Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2009 10:16:53 PM
Sometimes people get away with it. Sometimes the wrong person gets convicted. I have certain libertarian tendencies and as a result I fear the latter a bit more than the former. But obviously both are problems.
Posted by: dm | May 12, 2009 10:40:35 PM
But that's not really my point. The issue with saying that House is innocent because the prosecutors now feel that they cannot go forward indicts the system when it may actually be evidence that the system is working . . . .
Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2009 10:43:06 PM
Yes, sometimes people get away with it. Other times the wrong people go to prison for crimes that they simply didn't do. The standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, not whether a person is the one who actually committed the crime or is factually innocent. If your point is the criminal justice system is imperfect I would agree with you. In light of your opinions, however, your support of a punishment that requires absolute perfection is absolutely absurd.
Posted by: karl | May 12, 2009 11:27:22 PM
Whatever, Karl. You miss the point. You're a moonbat who smears dead victims and thinks that Kevin Cooper didn't do it. So what you say is suspect.
The point, genius, is that using all negatives after initial positives to impugn the death penalty in America assumes that all of the negatives were true rather than false. That is sophistry.
Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2009 11:36:39 PM
The problem with the House case is that even in light of substantial newly discovered evidence that undermined his conviction, the system held so tightly to the presumption of infallibility and the dogma of finality. That such extraordinary efforts are required -- often pro bono, often over decades -- to exonerate individuals is why it is hard to say that the system worked. The system did everything it could not to work.
I think you and I differ on one basic point. In evaluating the system you see as central, the question of whether the defendant is actually the perpetrator. Instead I see as central the question of whether there is evidence sufficient to sustain a conviction. Happily the two questions often overlap. But in instances where they diverge, I think the legal system ought to concern itself primarily with the latter. The burden of proof is high, and it ought to be.
Posted by: dm | May 12, 2009 11:40:09 PM
If you can't argue your point without abuse, shut up.
Posted by: peter | May 13, 2009 2:42:48 AM
Personal remarks show frustration in the traverse. A judge would rejoinder them in a tribunal. That would signal to a confused jury which side is weak, in an inscrutable case. In court, the personal remark represents lawyer malpractice by risking the case.
Some are expert at inducing such frustration. The lawyer should not fall for that tactic in a trial.
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 13, 2009 7:04:40 AM
peter, your contribution is noted. Btw, I am sure karl takes that as a badge of honor.
Posted by: federalist | May 13, 2009 10:35:23 AM
dm, I think you miss the point. When people tout people like House as "exonerated", what they're doing is implying that the government procured a false positive, when it's certainly possible, likely even, that what happened was a false negative. I don't see how pointing that out is stating that the justice system ought to be evaluated as to whether the burden of proof was met. It is the anti-side who is taking outcomes and arguing that legal outcome equals what actually happened. I am reacting to that. I 100% agree that if the government doesn't meet its burden, the guy should walk.
Posted by: federalist | May 13, 2009 2:40:08 PM
I see what you're saying, Federalist. When many use the term "exonerated" to refer to House, they're asserting that House did not, in fact, commit the act in question, and in doing so they are criticizing the system that convicted him *because he didn't actually do it*.
I'm proposing we understand the term a little differently. Though I also see House's case as an indictment of our system.
The problem with the House case (and with wrongful convictions more broadly) is not so much that they reveal that the system got it wrong in the sense that it produced a conviction notwithstanding the fact that the defendant did not commit the act in question. (Though, one important caveat -- a surprising number of wrongful convictions do expose shocking infirmities with those convictions that should have been seen earlier.) The essential problem rather is the degree to which the system stubbornly clings to convictions that have been undermined by new evidence. Keep in mind, post-trial and direct appeal, defendants face draconian procedural hurdles, are not entitled to an attorney, and face absurd presumptions regarding the relative reliability of trial evidence as compared to new evidence.
As one example: until a couple of years ago, Virginia had a 21-Day Rule.If a defendant was convicted of murder and the murder victim turned up alive, but more than 21 days had elapsed since trial, the defendant was procedurally barred from presenting that new evidence in court. Period. That's just one obviously extreme example of the hostility that the system has towards newly discovered evidence of innocence.
The system fails not so much in its failure to get things right, but more in its stubborn reluctance to admit its mistakes.
Posted by: dm | May 13, 2009 5:04:15 PM