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January 20, 2010

Interesting Justice alignments in SCOTUS affirmance of state death sentence in Wood v. Allen

Though another SCOTUS opinion day has come and gone without any blockbuster rulings, the Court did this morning hand down a ruling Wood v. Allen, 08-9156 (Jan. 20, 2010) (available here), affirming a state death sentence.  Though full commentary on this latest capital ruling will have to wait because I now need to go teach my sentencing seminar at Fordham, the line-up of the Justices already makes the ruling interesting.  Specifically, the opinion for the Court was written by Justice Sotomayor, with Justice Stevens dissenting along with Justice Kennedy.

I think some folks may have been hoping (or worried) that Justice Sotomayor would be a consistent vote against the death penalty.  This ruling suggests that she can find some death sentences she likes.  It also seems to confirm the reality that, next to Justice Stevens, Justice Kennedy may be developing into the most constisted anti-death vote on the current Court.  That all said, one might see just a gendered story in the vote line-up in Wood v. Allen: the case involves domestic violence, as the defendant Holly Wood -- what a name! -- was convicted and sentenced to death for because he "broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend and shot her in the head and face as she lay in her bed."

January 20, 2010 at 10:25 AM | Permalink


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It's even worse than you describe. Wood's murder of his ex-girlfriend was preceded by another attempt to murder the same ex-girlfriend and a previous attempt to murder another ex-girlfriend.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 20, 2010 12:29:35 PM

Is is a crime to be Woods ex-girlfriend?

Posted by: Dean McAdams | Jan 20, 2010 12:40:26 PM

Well, if Kent is correct it would appear that it was a crime to Wood.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 20, 2010 1:23:35 PM

I know Kennedy has without a doubt moved left over the past few years but I don't see him becoming a "consistent" anti-death vote.

Posted by: DaveP | Jan 20, 2010 1:40:37 PM

Kennedy is not the most consistent anti-death vote on the court after Stevens. Not even close.

Posted by: dm | Jan 20, 2010 1:46:06 PM

Without Kennedy's vote, the right would have lost numerous cases over the years. McCleskey, etc. Of course, he has also flipped and went with the left several times that were aggravating.

Posted by: DaveP | Jan 20, 2010 1:49:40 PM

Is Holly Wood his real name? seriously, were there actually parents cruel enough to name their son "Holly Wood"?

Posted by: virginia | Jan 20, 2010 3:30:32 PM

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Holly Wood.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Holly Wood is sentenced to death, but in L.A. they will tell you that Hollywood died a long time ago.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 20, 2010 4:29:04 PM

My read on Kennedy is that he'll find any half-way plausible excuse to vote against the DP, but is not ready to ban it per se.

I doubt there IS a consistent anti-DP vote on the Court at this point. I had thought Stevens would be, but I'm not at all sure any longer.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 20, 2010 5:04:20 PM

Couple things on Kennedy. First, he could have a more idiosyncratic worry about alleged mental deficiencies than other issues. Second, he could have cast a vote simply to keep Stevens from being the lone dissenter.

This case probably should have been DIGd.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 20, 2010 5:49:03 PM

Are all the cases this term going to deal with ineffective counsel? After all these opinions, the courts below are still most likely confused or just going to decide them the way they feel like it anyway.

Posted by: DaveP | Jan 20, 2010 5:53:45 PM

Sorry, are we saying that Ginsburg votes for the death penalty more than Kennedy? Do we have numbers on that? I surely don't see it. It is quite possible that on this specific case, Kennedy found a problem. It is not like he is making it a habit to tag team with Stevens in cases of this nature.

Though it's not germane to this blog, the true strange line-up was in an original jurisdiction ruling, which split Roberts/Alito and Scalia/Thomas.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 20, 2010 7:25:21 PM

If the death penalty were banned, it would end the $multibillion death penalty appellate business. Executions will be minimized by the biased criminal lovers on the court, but not to the detriment of lawyer make work and sinecures.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 20, 2010 8:15:41 PM

I will have to look into it but, I don't remember Stevens, Ginsburg, or Breyer voting to affirm or reinstate death sentences anytime like they have this term. Who would have thought Sotomoyor would vote to affirm and Kennedy would dissent. At least that is a small sign today that she is more to the right than Souter ever was.

Posted by: DaveP | Jan 20, 2010 8:32:22 PM


Take a look at Bobby v. Van Hook for one.

Posted by: k | Jan 21, 2010 10:20:33 AM

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