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August 11, 2011

Split Sixth Circuit panel reverses death sentence in long-running Ohio case

A split Sixth Circuit panel has today granted habeas relief in an Ohio case concerning a murder that too place nearly 30 years ago.  Here is the start of the majority opinion in Stumpf v. Houk, No. 01-3613 (6th Cir. Aug. 11, 2011) (available here),

Recent polling results and statistical compilations support many of the economic and penological arguments that have long been raised in opposition to the imposition of the death penalty in the United States.  Other statistics bolster objections to a form of punishment that, possibly because of its finality, has been shown to have been misdirected. Such polemical discussions, while interesting, are, however, better suited for the deliberations in the chambers of our state and national legislatures. In this appeal, we are not asked to involve ourselves in those debates, or even in a discussion of the constitutionality of the death penalty.  Instead, we are required to examine only the constitutional ramifications of court proceedings that are alleged to have infringed John David Stumpf’s right to be sentenced in accordance with longstanding principles of due process and fundamental fairness.   We conclude that those principles were violated by the state in seeking to execute Stumpf even after it became clear that the basis for the imposition of the death penalty had been seriously compromised in the subsequent prosecution of Stumpf’s accomplice, as further explained below.   Indeed, the facts of this case exemplify the arbitrariness that prior decisions of the United States Supreme Court and of this court have decried as violative of fundamental constitutional safeguards. As a result, we once again reverse the judgment of the district court and remand this matter for issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, unless the State of Ohio conducts a new sentencing hearing for Stumpf within 90 days of the issuance of this opinion.

Here is how the dissent by Judge Boggs gets started:

The majority has resurrected a new substantive right of their own invention, which made its first appearance in Stumpf v. Mitchell, 367 F.3d 594 (6th Cir. 2004), vacated by Bradshaw v. Stumpf, 545 U.S. 175 (2005), and apparently had all along been lurking somewhere within the Fourteenth Amendment.   In its current iteration, the new right protects a convicted murderer from being sentenced to death where mitigating evidence (i.e., evidence that does not undermine the murder conviction itself but that might have counseled towards a more lenient sentence) discovered after sentencing is later used by the prosecution against a different defendant.   Notably, the due process violation is not that mitigating evidence exists that is later discovered, which would not by itself offend the Constitution, Noel v. Norris, 322 F.3d 500, 504 (8th Cir. 2003); see Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 400 (1993), but, curiously, that the newly discovered evidence is later used by the prosecution against a different defendant. Somehow, that purely later conduct retroactively renders the earlier sentence unconstitutional.

August 11, 2011 at 11:40 AM | Permalink

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Comments

It took the panel this long to write a 26 page opinion. What a joke.

Posted by: DaveP | Aug 11, 2011 12:16:14 PM

I feel for the victim's family in this case. At first, these hack judges tried to get the criminal released (sorry, retried), and now they bend over backwards? Ridiculous. This case is a travesty. Democratic judges--what does one expect?

By the way, and I am not a litigator, since the state won at the federal district court level, it should have been allowed to raise Teague on appeal in order to hold onto its judgment.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 11, 2011 12:26:00 PM

federalist

Moore and Daughtrey were hell bent on granting relief to Stumpf. This is the case that has been dragging on for years in which the Ohio AG had asked the 6th on at least 2 occasions what the holdup was. The majority just had to figure out how to do it.

Posted by: DaveP | Aug 11, 2011 12:35:19 PM

The first paragraph of the opinion is a joke. "Watch as I make it blatantly clear that I am a shill for one side of this hypercharged policy debate, complete with a cite to the Death Penalty Info website, while in the next breath deny that the policy debate actually has anything to do with this case."

Posted by: Anon | Aug 11, 2011 12:43:46 PM

"By the way, and I am not a litigator..."

I thought you were a tax lawyer.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Aug 11, 2011 6:04:36 PM

Yes, clearly the debate did factor into the decision. I wonder if those were his exact words?

Posted by: Ohio Anthem | Aug 11, 2011 8:55:29 PM

I read the majority decision, and it seems reasonable to me. Federalist, you continue your critique of "hack" judges, as anyone you disagree with. You are so smart. When's the last time you were nominated to be on the court of appeals? Do you really thing the prosecutors played fair in this case? Seems to me they're up to the same old tricks: win at any cost, and let justice be damned. The family of the victims should turn their wrath on the prosecutors, not the judges. Shame on you and the sheep that follow you.

Posted by: anon15 | Aug 11, 2011 11:46:19 PM

I am not a litigator, since the state won at the federal district court level, it should have been allowed to raise Teague on appeal in order to hold onto its judgment..... I wonder if those were his exact words..

Posted by: android developers | Aug 12, 2011 8:12:33 AM

Well, anon15, these hack judges got bounced the first time around by SCOTUS--9-0, I believe. They tried to toss a perfectly legitimate conviction, and, having failed that, are trying to get rid of a valid death sentence. Second of all, how do we "blame" the prosecutors? They used the evidence they had against Stumpf. More came out later. And the sentencing panel saw the new evidence?

This case is inexplicable--unless you just come to the conclusion that these turkeys just don't like the death penalty.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 12, 2011 8:23:16 AM

C'mon, federalist. The hacks are the judges who seem to exist to shine legislators shoes and hold ranks with cops and prosecutors.

I see it as a good thing any time federal judges feel for a pulse on a constitution that's been dying of neglect and indifference over the past four decades.

Posted by: John K | Aug 12, 2011 10:04:09 AM

More work for the supreme court, again This is what happens when you get 2 of 3 liberal judges on a dp case. Both Moore and Daugherty are rapid anti-DP crusaders. They won't be happy until the DP is eliminated, which will never happen.

Posted by: DeanO | Aug 12, 2011 9:25:53 PM

"Both Moore and Daugherty are rapid anti-DP crusaders."

I think the word you are looking for is "rabid." Ordinarily I'd write that off as a typo, but b and p are too far apart on the keyboard. Both Moore and Daughtrey have voted to uphold death sentences in habeas cases, so calling them "anti-DP crusaders" is a pretty ridiculous claim.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Aug 13, 2011 4:17:10 PM

DEANO

Moore and Daughtrey lean to the left, but TDPS is correct. They have affirmed several death cases. Cole and Clay also go either way, usually with the prisoner. Merritt and Martin are the ones who are anti-DP on the 6th.

Posted by: DaveP | Aug 14, 2011 6:31:34 PM

"Merritt and Martin are the ones who are anti-DP on the 6th."

Merritt and Martin have each indicated that they are personally opposed to the death penalty. Both of them have voted to uphold death sentences in habeas cases, though, so I don't think it would be fair to classify them any differently than any of the other left-leaning judges on the 6th.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Aug 14, 2011 8:02:30 PM

TDPS

I admit Merritt has voted to affirm a couple in the past few years. But, please cite me cases where Martin has voted to uphold a death sentence. I am unaware of any. I would put him in the same class as Brennan and Marshall. His opinions speak for themselves. I would consider both of them quite a bit to the left of the other liberals on the 6th.

Posted by: DaveP | Aug 14, 2011 8:22:56 PM

"But, please cite me cases where Martin has voted to uphold a death sentence."

Reynolds v. Bagley, 498 F.3d 549 (2007). Also Noling v. Bradshaw, just a few weeks ago, and Wiles v. Bagley, 561 F.3d 636 (2009).

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Aug 15, 2011 5:46:53 PM

TDPS

good research. I was unaware of those. Thanks for the info.

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