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December 5, 2014

SCOTUS takes up new capital procedures case from Louisiana

As reported in this SCOTUSblog post, the Supreme Court this afternoon granted cert on three new cases, one of which involves death penalty procedure.  Here is Lyle Denniston's description of Brumfield v. Cain, the new capital case on the Supreme Court's agenda:

In accepting a Louisiana murder case for review on Friday, the Court agreed to sort out whether an individual accused of a capital crime has a right to an independent court hearing on whether he suffers from mental incapacity, and thus could not be sentenced to death.  In the case of Brumfield v. Cain, the issue of Kevan Brumfield’s mental state was decided as an issue at the penalty phase of his murder trial, rather than at a separate inquiry.

Brumfield was sentenced to death for the shooting death of an off-duty Baton Rouge, La., police officer during an attempted robbery at a night deposit box at a bank in 1993. The officer had used a police car to transport a store manager on a trip to the bank to deposit the store’s proceeds.  Brumfield was charged with killing the officer and wounding the store manager.

In taking the case to the Supreme Court, Brumfield’s lawyers argued that he has a serious defect in his intellectual capacity, but that state courts dealt with that only as an issue during his death sentencing hearing to determine whether it should mitigate the penalty.  The petition contended that he was entitled to a separate hearing on that question.  His petition raised a separate question on whether Brumfield was entitled to have the state pay for gathering evidence of his mental incapacity.

UPDATE: A lot more information about this crime and the defendant in this new SCOTUS case can be found in this local article, headlined "U.S. Supreme Court to hear mental retardation claim of Baton Rouge convicted killer: Mental retardation, execution eligibility at heart of the matter."

December 5, 2014 at 03:12 PM | Permalink


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He did the crime!

Posted by: LC in Texas | Dec 6, 2014 11:21:03 AM

A person found to be insane "did the crime" of trying to kill Andrew Jackson, but the prosecutor (Francis Scott Key, of national anthem fame) realized the guy was unbalanced & accepted him being sentenced to spend his life in a mental hospital.

Anyway, I wonder if Panetti had anything to do with this grant.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 6, 2014 11:38:59 AM

Doug, I have maintained for years that a def is entitled to know before trial "how deep the water is" if the case went to trial. A person who is mentally retarded is not eligible for the death penalty. It is not a mitigating factor in the sentencing sense, it is a bar to prosecution.

I think the due process clause requires that a defendant know before he decides to waive a jury trial and plead guilty what is the worst sentence he faces. (in my opinion, the prospect that a def could receive a higher sentence due to a factfinding by a judge after the trial is at the heart of Apprendi/Blakely.) To my best recollection, I believe Justice Ginsburg made a comment at the Blakely oral argument that Ralph Apprendi didn't know how deep the water was until after the judge made his findings.

A long time ago, I recall trying a case in front of a judge who was famous for finding "nonstatutory aggravating factors" In other words, reasons to increase the sentence which were not set out in the statute as aggravating factors. The jury convicted my client and the prosecutor leaned over and whispered "I wonder what aggravators neither one of us considered the Judge will find today." The judge found "the def failed to voluntarily surrender the murder weapon." Reversed by the Court of Appeals.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Dec 7, 2014 9:22:19 PM

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