1215 K Street, 14th Floor, California Room
Sacramento, CA 95814
- Bradley A. Benbrook, Founding Partner, Benbrook Law Group
- Anastasia Boden, PLF Staff Attorney
- Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
On April 19, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Weaver v. Massachusetts. Kentel Myrone Weaver was convicted of first degree murder for the 2003 shooting of Germaine Rucker. In 2011, Weaver filed a motion for a new trial, claiming that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. A court officer had closed the court to Weaver’s family and other members of the public during jury selection because of overcrowding. Weaver claimed that this closure violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, and his counsel had failed to object to the closure. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed Weaver’s conviction on direct appeal and declined to grant relief on his Sixth Amendment claim.
The question before the Supreme Court is whether a defendant asserting ineffective assistance that results in a structural error must, in addition to demonstrating deficient performance, show that he was prejudiced by counsel's ineffectiveness, as held by four circuits and five state courts of last resort; or whether prejudice is presumed in such cases, as held by four other circuits and two state high courts.
To discuss the case, we have Peter M. Thomson, who is Special Counsel at Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann LLC.
On March 29, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Turner v. United States, which was consolidated with Overton v. United States. In 1984, the body of Catherine Fuller was discovered in an alley after she had been beaten and raped. Sufficient physical evidence to identify the perpetrators was not recovered, and the medical examiner could not determine the number of attackers involved. Thirteen teenagers were initially indicted for being involved in a group effort to originally rob and subsequently assault and kill her. Two of them, Harry Bennett and Calvin Alston, pled guilty and agreed to testify, but the details in their accounts differed. Turner and nine other defendants were found guilty by a jury, and their convictions were affirmed on direct appeal. Nearly 25 years later, Turner and several of the other original defendants moved to have their sentences vacated, claiming that they had not received fair trials because the government had withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. They also argued that newly discovered evidence, including the recantations of Bennett and Alston, established that they were actually innocent of the crime. The trial court denied the motion, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court held that the defendants had not shown a reasonable probability that the outcome of their trials would have been different with the new evidence.
The question now before the Supreme Court is whether the petitioners' convictions must be set aside under Brady v. Maryland.
To discuss the case, we have Brian Lichter, who is Associate at Latham & Watkins.