Leading off the edition is an odd little opinion by the Supreme Court in Oregon v. Guzek. The opinion seems to offer a little something for everyone, save those who would want to "reject all Eighth Amendment residual-doubt claims." The opinion is unusually nuanced seemingly holding that a State may exclude evidence that concerns only whether the guilt phase verdict was correct but does not exclude "newly discovered" evidence of innocence as well as evidence as to how he committed the crime. Also notable is that more than Chief Justice Roberts refusing to join in the concurrence by Justice Scalia is that he apparently awarded the writing of the majority opinion to the the Court's biggest death penalty skeptic.
Four wins are also noted. Possibly the most significant of the four is the holding of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Hughes v. State. The Court agreed with arguments set forth by the Center for Capital Litigation's Teresa Norris that Hughes was not mentally competent to waive his right to pursue post-conviction relief. It seems Hughes didn't understand the nature of the PCR proceeding which he wanted to waive and lacks the ability to rationally communicate with his lawyer.
The Court of Appeals in Maryland in Abeokuto v. State vacates the sentence imposed, unfortunately there is not a majority opinion but rather two plurality opinions. In one of the plurality opinions "members of the Court [ ] vacate the sentencing because the record did not demonstrate a knowing and voluntary waiver of the jury sentencing right because the trial court, in view of the relatively long passage of time since the competency determination proceeding, failed to inquire anew into Abeokuto’s medication state and consider its impact on his ability to give a knowing and voluntary waiver when the facts of the case raised that issue." The other plurality opinion would reverse "the sentence and the imposition of the death penalty on the grounds that the Maryland death penalty statute violates due process and is therefore unconstitutional because the statute requires that aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances only by a preponderance of the evidence rather than the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt." The Eighth Circuit in Weaver v. Bowersox vacates a sentence of death due to comments by the prosecutor in closing argument. According to the majority opinion the prosecutor’s impermissible comments include comparing jurors to soldiers, and recounting a scene from the movie Patton, where George C. Scott says that killing during war is justified when you "reach over and put your hand in the pile of goo that a moment before was your best friend’s face;" informing jurors that he was the top law enforcement officer in the county, with authority to decide which cases were eligible for the death penalty;" telling jurors that they needed to send the right message to "the scum of the world": the "drug dealers, dope peddlers, and the hitmen they hire to do their dirty deeds," and that the right message was not life in prison because death is "the only message they are going to understand." Eric W. Butts and Phillip Horwitz won the writ. Rob Loblaw at Decision of the Day has more. Briefs available here. The final win noted is Simpson v. Moore. The State was less than forthcoming with evidence relating to Simpson's armed robbery conviction. The armed robbery was the "statutory aggravating circumstance urged by the State as a ground for imposing the death penalty." Since the robbery conviction was vacated a new trial on the armed robbery charge must be had, and if a conviction had, a new sentencing on life and death. Russel Ghent, John Blume & Sheri Johnson were on the "win." The news of the week remains lethal injection. California postponed indefinitely the execution of Michael Morales amid a court battle over the state's method of lethal injection and the role doctors may play in the death chamber. Morales was to be executed early Tuesday but two anesthesiologists refused to take part, saying that it was "medically unethical" to be required to give the executioner advice if something went wrong. The state had hoped to find replacement doctors to attend the rescheduled execution but had to postpone the lethal injection indefinitely Tuesday evening. The district court's orders in Morales' case from this week are available relating to the clarification of the protocol here & here. In the other news of the week, Florida death row prisoner John Robert Ballard was "acquitted" Thursday by a unanimous decision of the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered his conviction overturned due to a lack of evidence connecting him to the crime after serving more than 3 years on death row. An interesting poll is out this week on the death penalty looking at how it compares in USA, UK & Canada, including demographic breakdown of political affiliation, age, and gender breakdowns are provided. As always thanks for reading. - k
Full edition available here