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May 31, 2007

Mario Claiborne killed in strange robbery... now what?!?!?

I have been hearing rumors since yesterday that the defendant in Claiborne v. US, Mario Clairborne, had been killed in Saint Louis.  I have now confirmed through various sources that the "Morio Claiborne" mentioned in this article as having been killed in a car robbery incident is the same person whose case is right now pending before the Court. 

My sources tell me that something will be filed officially with the Supreme Court today.  But exactly what this means for the Claiborne case (and the companion Rita case) remains to be seen.  Needless to say, I am stunned by this remarkable development, and I wonder if there is any recent precedent about what exactly should be done in circumstances like this.

Wow... and I'm very interested in reader comments.

UPDATE: SCOTUSblog is now reporting the news and has this analysis of now what:

Under Supreme Court Rule 35, when a party to a case has died, a personal representative may be named if the legal interests would survive the death.  That would not be possible in a case involving a convicted and sentenced individual, who has the sole legal interest in the outcome. Thus, it would appear that the Claiborne case would simply be dismissed by the Court, leaving that aspect of the Guidelines reasonableness inquiry unsettled -- unless the coming decision in the Rita case goes beyond the single issue presented there.

May 31, 2007 at 12:40 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on May 31, 2007 7:51:02 PM



According to Lyle Denniston,

"Under Supreme Court Rule 35, when a party to a case has died, a personal representative may be named if the legal interests would survive the death. That would not be possible in a case involving a convicted and sentenced individual, who has the sole legal interest in the outcome. Thus, it would appear that the Claiborne case would simply be dismissed by the Court, leaving that aspect of the Guidelines reasonableness inquiry unsettled -- unless the coming decision in the Rita case goes beyond the single issue presented there."

Posted by: | May 31, 2007 12:59:39 PM

I went back to the Order granting cert. in Rita and it appears there were 3 issues presented. Am I missing something?

Sanford Boxerman
Defense Attorney

Posted by: Sanford J. Boxerman | May 31, 2007 1:27:39 PM

I don't think there's any doubt as to what happens. Claiborne's case is moot, and the petition is dismissed. It's a pity for the state of the law, because his was very obviously a test case — the Justices could have chosen any case presenting the identical questions (and there are many). Now an opinion that was surely in the last stages of completion must be scuttled, and the whole process restarted with another defendant.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 31, 2007 1:37:56 PM

Idaho recently revisted the effect of an appellant's death during appeal, and concluded that abatement ab initio is no longer its rule for policy reasons, to wit, there are consequences to a conviction that should not go away through the arbitary timing of the appellants death, such as fines, costs and restitution to crime victims. Idaho v. Korsen, 111 P.3d 130 (Idaho 2005.)

Posted by: greg silvey | May 31, 2007 1:45:13 PM

Follow up to my last post regarding Idaho law, I did not mean to say that the appeal would not be dismissed upon Appellant's death, it was, and the conviction and order for payment of costs and fees and restitution remained intact, but the incarceration provisions were abated.

Posted by: greg silvey | May 31, 2007 1:51:18 PM

Regrettably, the death of the defendant in the chosen case postpones resolution of the issue, possibly for a very long time. John Pasch died the day I mailed in my brief in Pasch v. Illinois, 510 U.S. 910 (1993).

SCOTUS decided the issue in Brown v. Sanders. Thirteen years later.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 31, 2007 1:59:33 PM

The Supreme Court's order granting cert in Rita raises three questions:

1. Was the district court's choice of within-Guidelines sentence reasonable?

2. In making that determination, is it consistent with [Booker] to accord a presumption of reasonableness to within-Guidelines sentences?

3. If so, can that presumption justify a sentence imposed without an explicit analysis by the District Court of the [sec. 3553(a)] factors and any other factors that might justify a lesser sentence?

The Supreme Court granted cert on the following two questions:

1 Was the district court's choice of below-Guidelines sentence reasonable?

2 In making that determination, is it consistent with [Booker] to require that a sentence which constitutes a substantial variance from the Guidelines be justified by extraordinary circumstances?

What happens now?

At bottom, though, both cases raise a single issue. In Rita, it's what Booker requires when a district judge sentences outside of the Guidelines. In Claiborne, it's what Booker requires when a district judge sentences within the Guidelines.

Depending on what the Supreme Court has decided, the loss of Claiborne might not make much difference. If the Supreme Court decides in Rita that the focal point of the analysis is the correspondence between the sentence imposed and the parsimony provision, and that the Guidelines are no more important than any other 3553(a) factor, then the loss of Claiborne wouldn't seem to do much.

If instead it decides that the Guidelines are the starting point and that they have some sort of gravitational pull on the rest of the sentencing calculus (i.e. presumption of reasonableness or otherwise), then the only thing I could see being left open by the loss of Claiborne's case is the question whether (and to what extent) the district judge has to make an independent evaluation of the substantive reasonableness of a within-Guidelines sentence.

Posted by: armchair QB | May 31, 2007 2:11:50 PM

Wow! If in fact Claiborn is moot, there might be a way to still get guidance from the Court on the proportionality principle if there is a single opinion being written (i.e. there is not one opinion being written in Rita and another being written in Claiborne).

If the cases were consolidated for the purposes of opinion writing (as Booker/Fanfan was), the Justices may just decide to issue the opinion as currently drafted (surely, it's almost done) without deleting its holding in Claiborne, but caveating the opinion by saying any discussion of the proportionality principle is dicta. That way, SCOTUS does not issue a "holding" on a moot issue, but it does provide attorneys and judges guidance on the issue.

Is this an "unreasonable" (some pun intended) way to deal with this situation?

Posted by: DEJ | May 31, 2007 2:44:58 PM

DEJ, I assume that the court plans to write one opinion, as it did in Booker/Fanfan. The short version of the long-winded point in my last comment was that Rita and Claiborne are basically two applications of the same principle, so I think the Supreme Court could probably explain the principle in sufficient detail just on the Rita facts that the loss of Claiborne probably won't matter.

That said, I think dropping a footnote to the effect that "Section III.A.1 is dictum because Claiborne's case is moot" is probably not a good way to do it.

I have no idea how the draft looks at this point. It could be that there are multiple separate opinions, and it could be that the concurring and dissenting opinions rely on the specific facts of Claiborne to make some of their points. Given the way Cunningham and Booker looked, I assume that this is the case.

My guess, therefore, is that today's events will result in some redrafting, that the opinion will not be issued for another week or two, but that the opinion will not change much, substantively.

Pure speculation, of course.

Posted by: armchair QB | May 31, 2007 3:23:16 PM

This sad death shows that a court may not be doing a criminal defendant any favor when it gives him a lenient sentence. Obviously, the sentence Mario Claiborne received failed to teach him that crime doesn't pay. Furthermore, it seems likely that if he had received a within-guidelines sentence, he would be alive today. Whether he would also have learned his lesson -- who can say?

Posted by: William Jockusch | May 31, 2007 3:36:24 PM

Obviously, the sentence Mario Claiborne received failed to teach him that crime doesn't pay.

It's not clear that long sentences teach that lesson either. All they do is delay the prisoner's opportunity to re-offend. Our current sentencing system is oriented to incapacitation and retribution, not to rehabilitation.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 31, 2007 4:22:43 PM

Death of a criminal defendant (petitioner or respondent) while a case is pending following a grant of certiorari results in dismissal of the writ as moot. Whether the proceedings then abate, including dismissal of the indictment, is left to be decided on a case by case basis in the court of appeals. Stern & Gressman, 8th ed., sec. 18.7, at 838, citing Dove v. United States, 423 US 325 (1976) (per curiam); United States v. Green, 507 US 545 (1993).

Posted by: Peter G | May 31, 2007 4:31:47 PM

I agree with armchair QB that if the Court were inclined to do so, it could certainly decide Rita with reasoning that makes the mootness of Claiborn irrelevant. It could also, if it felt it necessary, defer issuance of a decision in Rita (like it did in Brown v. Board) to the next term, and grant on another petition for cert raising the same issue which otherwise would have been the subject of a summary order in the wake of Claiborn. Dead criminal defendants are rare enough that this decision wouldn't do grave injustice to the Court's workings (and it would provide this blog with months of additional suspense).

As an aside, it is worth noting that the facts of Claiborn's death (killed with deadly force in flight from an apparent non-violent property crime) are a lot like Garner, only with a civilian rather than a law enforcement officer firing the shot. This is probably not a justified homicide under Missouri law, although, of course, a prosecutor or grand jury could choose not to prosecte anyway. It would probably even be an actionable wrongful death with a decent chance of a motion for summary judgment decision (although one were asking for a solatium amount rather than a jury determined award would be wise as a matter of trial strategy).

Posted by: ohwilleke | May 31, 2007 4:33:14 PM

Not sure why the well versed exceptions to mootness wouldn't apply. Likewise, I am not sure -- if the opinion were issued in the next few days -- that it would be moot, so long as the Court did not receive a death certificate until after it issued the opinion (although that might be trying to put too fine of a point on it).

I would also note - there is no evidence Mario Clairborne in anyway violated the law here from the article cited by DB. Indeed, the thief in this matter appeared to be acting rather impulsively & it would be rather unusual (and I've been doing crim law for some time now) to see someone conspire to do a theft in a matter of seconds with their child sitting in the car with them and the alleged co-conspirator.

Posted by: anon | May 31, 2007 5:08:27 PM

I've got a wacky idea (which means it won't happen). There have got to be tons of cert. petitions stacking up, in which petitioners raise the identical issue that Claiborne had raised. The Court could grant one of those petitions and decide it summarily, substituting the petitioner's name for Claiborne's, and inserting the facts of the new petitioner's case into the already-written Claiborne opinion.

I'd be curious to know under which mootness exceptions anon. believes the Court could still issue the decision with Claiborne's name on it.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 31, 2007 5:33:59 PM

anon, I'm curious as to which exceptions you have in mind. I doubt, however, that the Court will issue an opinion on Tuesday, feigning ignorance of Claiborne's death.

On the question whether there's evidence that Claiborne violated the law, the article says this:

Police gave this account:

Claiborne, driving a car with a male friend, a woman and a child, stopped for gas about 11:45 p.m. at a service station at South Grand Boulevard and Blaine Avenue.

About the same time, two men drove up and left a pickup truck running as they walked to the service window. Claiborne's male passenger seized the opportunity and drove off in the truck, with Claiborne following in the car.

The theft victim fired four shots at the car, wounding Claiborne, who was able to drive to St. Louis University Hospital before passing out. He died at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Then this: Officials said the man who drove off in the pickup was arrested after members of Claiborne's family located him and held him for police.

Certainly not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, but evidence nonetheless. There are plenty of plausible innocent explanations, and at least one guilty explanation. This subject is a tangent, anyway.

Posted by: armchair QB | May 31, 2007 5:34:16 PM

Aren't there a lot of these cases pending before the court right now? Couldn't it just grant cert on one of the cases the court is holding to replace Claiborne?

Posted by: Elson | May 31, 2007 5:35:53 PM

From a legal standpoint, it is entirely possible that, had Mr. Claiborne not been murdered, he might have been able to escape criminal punishment for the theft. Although the fact that he apparently followed his friend afterwards could present a problem for him.

From a practical standpoint, Mr. Claiborne's conduct in the incident makes it clear that he had failed to distance himself from crime generally. The fact that he chose as a friend someone who would react that way makes this perfectly clear.

None of this detracts from the sadness of what happened. At the same time, let's not fool ourselves about what the incident tells us about Mr. Claiborne's lack of rehabilitation.

Posted by: William Jockusch | May 31, 2007 5:38:12 PM

Elson has a point. Normally, if they take a second case to replace a dropped one, they would give the parties the benefit of full briefing and argument (e.g., Atkins to replace McCarver). However, in Espinosa v. Florida, 505 U.S. 1079 (1992), they decided the case summarily, and adversely to Florida, where that state had already made its argument in the dropped case, Sochor. See Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 539 (1997).

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 31, 2007 6:28:02 PM

Kent (and I say this tongue in cheek), you've never said I had a point before. I'm honored.

Posted by: Elson | May 31, 2007 6:45:58 PM

I remember that cert was granted on a case after McNeil v. Wisconsin to clear up Justice Scalia's dicta in footnote 3 of his opinion in that case, I think the petitioner's name was Green, but then after cert was granted the petitioner was killed in a robbery and the case was dismissed.

Posted by: William Kent | May 31, 2007 8:19:53 PM

The apparent manner of Claiborne's death will also raise some interesting legal issues. It looks like two people might be charged for the same murder, even though neither was acting in concert with the other and, in fact, one of them had just stolen the other's pickup truck. I discuss here at StubbornFacts.us.

Posted by: PatHMV | May 31, 2007 10:51:28 PM

For those of you who are gloatingly characterizing the news story as demonstrating Mario Claiborne's "lack of rehabilitation," shame on you. Anyone who has been around the criminal justice system for 5 minutes knows that news reports about crime are rarely complete and accurate, particularly at the outset. All you know is that Claiborne gave a ride to someone who jumped out of his car to steal a truck on the spur of the moment, Claiborne began to drive away when he was shot and killed, and Claiborne's family caught and held the truck thief. It is hard to believe that Claiborne -- himself a father of young children with whom he lives -- planned and participated in a car theft with a baby in the back seat -- while awaiting a Supreme Court decision in his case. Get real.

Posted by: abe | Jun 3, 2007 7:34:17 PM

this was my brother well still is, i hope that something will be done an everybody get the story rite, it hurts evertday i wake up crying with him on my mind hell im crying rite now he meant so much to me an eveyone esle, he leaves behind 3 little boys a one little girl that looks just like him...

Posted by: Damerion | Jun 19, 2007 12:56:37 PM

This blog was great preparation for my research of this case. I am to recite the facts and cert question in relation to mootness in my Con Law class this afternoon. Thanks!

Posted by: PETE KERR | May 21, 2009 2:10:36 PM

Great post even though I was a little confused at first and thought you are talking about jewels. Anyhow great site and good info to know! More conversation materials for me!

Posted by: air jordans retro 4 | Nov 29, 2010 4:15:03 AM

this is my dad and i miss him so much needless to say im not in pain

Posted by: his daughter | May 18, 2017 3:24:21 PM

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