MENU

Death Penalty

Williams v. Pennsylvania - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 6-15-16 featuring Cassandra Burke Robertson
Cassandra Burke Robertson June 15, 2016

On June 9, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Williams v. Pennsylvania. Terrance Williams was convicted and sentenced to death for the robbery and murder of Amos Norwood. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Williams’ conviction and sentence, and his initial attempts to obtain state postconviction relief failed. His subsequent petition for federal habeas relief also failed. He again sought post-conviction penalty-related relief in state court and prevailed in the Court of Common Pleas on a claim of unlawful evidence suppression. On appeal, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the grant of relief and lifted the stay of execution (though a temporary reprieve was later granted by the governor for other reasons). The Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Ronald Castille, who had joined the opinion reversing the grant of relief to Williams, had also been the District Attorney for Philadelphia during Williams’ trial, sentencing, and appeal. In that capacity, Castille had authorized his office to seek the death penalty for Williams. Williams had moved to have Chief Justice Castille recuse himself from hearing the appeal of post-conviction relief, but Castille declined to do so.

The central question before the U.S. Supreme Court was whether Justice Castille’s denial of the recusal motion and his subsequent judicial participation violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. By a vote of 5-3, the Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and remanded the case. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that under the Due Process Clause, where a judge has had an earlier significant, personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision in the defendant’s case, the risk of actual bias in the judicial proceeding rises to an unconstitutional level. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Alito joined. Justice Thomas also filed a dissenting opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Cassandra Burke Robertson, who is Professor of Law, Laura B. Chisolm Distinguished Research Scholar, and Director, Center for Professional Ethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Racial Pretexts in Peremptory Jury Strikes: The Impact of Foster v. Chatman - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Podcast
Joseph L. Hoffmann May 25, 2016

The Supreme Court issued its 7-1 ruling in Foster v. Chatman on May 23, reversing the Supreme Court of Georgia and remanding the case. Foster was convicted of murder and sentenced to death three decades ago by an all-white jury. The prosecutor struck all of the black jurors and had plans to do so before the voir dire began. The prosecution presented several race-neutral reasons for striking the jurors, and the Georgia courts ruled against the Batson claim. Foster later gained access to the prosecution's jury-selection notes that showed some racial pretext and used them for a renewed Batson claim. The Georgia courts rejected the claim as barred by state res judicata. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority of the court finding that the court did still have jurisdiction and impermissible racial pretext was apparent for at least two of the state's peremptory strikes. Justice Thomas wrote a firm dissent where he doubted the court's jurisdiction. This Teleforum discussed the ramifications of this decision on the future of Batson deference, res judicata, and how this case might affect capital appeals pending throughout the nation.

Featuring:

  • Prof. Joseph L. Hoffmann, Harry Pratter Professor of Law and Director for Strategic Projects, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Kansas v. Carr - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 4-20-16 featuring Kent S. Scheidegger
Kent S. Scheidegger April 20, 2016

On January 20, 2016, the Supreme Court decided three consolidated death penalty cases: Kansas v. Carr, a second Kansas v. Carr, and Kansas v. Gleason.

A Kansas jury sentenced Sidney Gleason to death for killing a co-conspirator and her boyfriend to cover up the robbery of an elderly man. In a joint proceeding, a Kansas jury also sentenced brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr to death for a crime spree that culminated in the brutal rape, robbery, kidnapping, and execution-style shooting of five young men and women. The Supreme Court of Kansas vacated the death sentences in each case, holding that the sentencing instructions violated the Eighth Amendment by failing “to affirmatively inform the jury that mitigating circumstances need only be proved to the satisfaction of the individual juror in that juror’s sentencing decision and not beyond a reasonable doubt.” It also held that the Carrs’ Eighth Amendment right “to an individualized capital sentencing determination” was violated by the trial court’s failure to sever their sentencing proceedings. 

The two questions before the U.S. Supreme Court were: (1) whether the Constitution required the sentencing courts to instruct the juries that mitigating circumstances “need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt”; and (2) whether the Constitution required severance of the Carrs’ joint sentencing proceedings. 

By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Kansas Supreme Court and remanded the cases. Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that (1) the Eighth Amendment does not require capital-sentencing courts to instruct a jury that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and (2) the Constitution did not require severance of joint sentencing proceedings because the contention that the admission of mitigating evidence by one defendant could have "so infected" the jury's consideration of the other defendant's sentence as to amount to a denial of due process does not stand in light of all the evidence presented at the guilty and penalty phases relevant to the jury's sentencing determination. Justice Scalia’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Kent S. Scheidegger, who is Legal Director & General Counsel at Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Hurst v. Florida - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast featuring Jack Park
John J. Park, Jr. February 11, 2016

On January 12, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Hurst v. Florida. The question before the Court was whether Florida’s death sentencing scheme--which Hurst contends does not require unanimity in the jury death recommendation or in the finding of underlying aggravating factors--violates the Sixth and/or Eighth Amendments in light of the Court’s 2002 decision Ring v. Arizona, which requires that the aggravating factors necessary for imposition of a death sentence be found by a jury.  The Florida Supreme Court upheld Hurst’s death sentence.

By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court and remanded the case, holding that Florida’s capital sentencing scheme did violate the Sixth Amendment in light of Ring. Justice Sotomayor’s opinion for the Court was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Kagan. Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Jack Park, who is Of Counsel with Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP.
 

Hurst v. Florida - Post-Argument SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 11-7-15 featuring Jack Park
John J. Park, Jr. November 07, 2015

On October 13, 2015, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Hurst v. Florida.  Timothy Lee Hurst was convicted of murdering his co-worker and sentenced to death after a jury recommended that penalty by a vote of 7-5.  The question before the Court here is whether Florida’s death sentencing scheme--which Hurst contends does not require unanimity in the jury death recommendation or in the finding of underlying aggravating factors--violates the Sixth or Eighth Amendments in light of the Court’s 2002 decision Ring v. Arizona, which holds that the aggravating factors necessary for imposition of a death sentence be found by a jury. 

To discuss the case, we have Jack Park, who is Of Counsel with Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP.