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June 12, 2006

A capital (and non-capital) day for SCOTUS work

Perhaps it is fitting that, on a day I start by moaning again about the death penalty getting too much attention, the Supreme Court hands down two major capital punishment rulings that I have been eagerly awaiting.  According to this post at SCOTUSblog:

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a Tennessee death row inmate has made a sufficient showing on his claim of innocence based on new evidence so that his case may proceed in federal habeas court. The ruling came in the case of House v. Bell (04-8990).

In the only other ruling of the day in an argued case, the Court allowed death row inmates seeking to challenge the lethal injection method of execution to pursue the issue as a civil rights claim, a broader option than federal habeas.  The ruling came in Hill v. McDonough (05-8794).

In addition, as reported here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court continuing also grant cert in Alphonso v. US "to decide whether state convictions for attempted burglary qualify as a violent felony for purposes of mandatory sentences under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act."

I will have comments on all these developments once I get a chance to read these new opinions.  In the meantime, readers are urged to use the comments to reflect on two wins for capital defendants.

UPDATE:  I also now see from SCOTUSblog that there were also some Almendarez-Torres fireworks as well:

Once again, Justice Clarence Thomas voiced his view -- so far, not shared openly by any other member of the Court -- that the Court should reconsider its ruling in Almendarez-Torres v. U.S., a 1998 decision that provides the only exception to the jury role that the Court has mandated in the Apprendi line of cases.  Thomas said "it is time for this Court to do its part" in addressing whether that decision continues to be valid.... Thomas spoke out anew in dissent as the Court refused to hear three cases raising the issue -- Rangel-Reyes v. U.S., Shuman v. U.S., and Banegas-Hernandez v. U.S.

Answering Thomas, Justice John Paul Stevens said he continued to believe that the 1998 ruling was wrong, but added "that is not a sufficient reason for revisiting the issue."  The denial of a jury trial on that issue, Stevens said, "will seldom create any significant risk of prejudice to the accused." Besides, he said, "countless judges in countless cases have relied upon Almendarez-Torres in making sentencing determinations. The doctrine of stare decisis provides a sufficeint basis for the denial" of review in the three new cases, he added.

Yikes, so much to talk about on a day I was hoping to get my grading finally done.  Oh well...

June 12, 2006 at 10:23 AM | Permalink


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So -- finally an explanation, and a very discouraging one at that, why the Court has allowed the Almendarez-Torres anomaly to fester for six years. It looks like they just plan to leave it that way forever.

Posted by: Peter G | Jun 12, 2006 10:43:06 AM

Very discouraging is right. Still, I assume the Court will recognize the need to resolve the meaning of Almendarez-Torres, i.e. is the narrow reading of A-T described in Shepard (decided on statutory avoiding-constitutional-doubt grounds), constitutionally compelled?

Posted by: Jonathan Soglin | Jun 12, 2006 12:20:51 PM

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