death penalty

Bucklew v. Precythe

Issues 

When an inmate with a rare and severe medical condition brings an as-applied challenge to a state’s method of execution, should the court assume that the execution will go as planned? And is the inmate constitutionally required to prove an alternative method of execution? Here, did Russell Bucklew meet his burden to prove the procedures of his proposed alternative method and the degree of pain he would likely suffer, and did he show how they compare to the method he challenges?

This case asks the Supreme Court to determine whether a death row inmate challenging an execution method must prove a feasible alternative execution method when the challenged method will allegedly inflict an unconstitutional level of pain as applied to the inmate’s medical condition. Russell Bucklew argues that the state should bear the burden of proving an alternative method in such an “as-applied” challenge. He reasons that because there is no risk that the challenged execution method will be outlawed in its entirety and because the state is in the best position to evaluate the effect of existing execution methods on the inmate’s medical condition, the Court should place the burden on the state. The Department of Corrections (“DOC”) argues that the inmate in an “as-applied” challenge case should bear this burden. The DOC notes that the inmate would be able to obtain an exemption from capital punishment and needlessly delay their execution by bringing meritless claims if the Court placed the burden on the state rather than on the inmate. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will impact the ability of inmates to challenge execution methods, the administrability of common execution methods such as lethal injection, and the effect of the capital punishment process on drug regulators, physicians, and state corrections officers.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Whether a court evaluating an as-applied challenge to a state’s method of execution based on an inmate’s rare and severe medical condition should assume that medical personnel are competent to manage his condition and that the procedure will go as intended;
  2. Whether evidence comparing a state’s method of execution with an alternative proposed by an inmate must be offered via a single witness, or whether a court at summary judgment must look to the record as a whole to determine whether a factfinder could conclude that the two methods significantly differ in the risks they pose to the inmate;
  3. Whether the Eighth Amendment requires an inmate to prove an adequate alternative method of execution when raising an as-applied challenge to the state’s proposed method of execution based on his rare and severe medical condition; and
  4. Whether petitioner Russell Bucklew met his burden under Glossip v. Gross to prove what procedures would be used to administer his proposed alternative method of execution, the severity and duration of pain likely to be produced, and how they compare to the state’s method of execution.

In March 1996, Russell Bucklew followed his former girlfriend, Stephanie Ray, to the trailer home of Michael Sanders, where she was living. Bucklew v. Precythe (“Precythe”) at 1–2. Bucklew entered the trailer and shot Sanders. Id. While Sanders bled to death, Bucklew handcuffed Ray, dragged her into his car, and drove away.

Edited by 

Acknowledgments 

Additional Resources 

Submit for publication 

0

Wood v. Allen

Issues 

Whether the scope of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act requires a federal court to conduct its own fact-finding, and to what degree, when determining the reasonableness of state court decisions regarding habeas corpus petitions under the Act.

 

In 1994, Petitioner Holly Wood was convicted of capital murder for sneaking into his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom and shooting her in the head with a shotgun. The judge imposed the death penalty, as recommended by the jury. Wood claims that, during sentencing, he did not receive effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. He argues that defense counsel failed to further investigate or present evidence of his mental disabilities. According to Wood, the state court’s rejection of this argument was an unreasonable application of federal law. He also argues that the Eleventh Circuit’s standard of review in habeas corpus proceedings abdicates the court’s judicial review function under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). The State of Alabama counters that the Eleventh Circuit properly deferred to the reasonable determinations of the state courts as required by the AEDPA. This decision will better define the appropriate level of deference due to state court factual determinations during federal habeas corpus proceedings.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether a state court’s decision on post-conviction review is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts when it concludes that, during the sentencing phase of a capital case, the failure of a novice attorney with no criminal law experience to pursue or present evidence of defendant’s severely impaired mental functioning was a strategic decision, while the court ignores evidence in the record before it that demonstrates otherwise?

2. Whether the rule followed by some circuits, including the majority in this case, abdicates the court’s judicial review function under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act by failing to determine whether a state court decision was unreasonable in light of the entire state court record and instead focusing solely on whether there is clear and convincing evidence in that record to rebut certain subsidiary factual findings?

In 1993, while on parole for shooting another former girlfriend, petitioner Holly Wood snuck into the bedroom of his ex-girlfriend while she slept and fatally shot her in the head with a shotgun. See Wood v. Allen, 542 F.3d 1281, 1283–84 (11th Cir.

Edited by 

Additional Resources 

·          Annotated U.S. Constitution: Sixth Amendment

·          Wex: Law about Criminal Procedure

·          Federation of American Scientists, Charles Doyle: Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty (Jun. 3, 1996)

Submit for publication 

0

Snyder v. Louisiana

Issues 

1. Did the Louisiana Supreme Court misapply Miller-El v. Dretke by failing to address several factors supporting a claim of intentional discrimination by the prosecution in a capital trial, including comparisons to the O.J. Simpson trial, the elimination of all African-Americans from the jury by peremptory challenge, differences in the questioning of black and white prospective jurors, and a manner of excluding minority prospective jurors that indicated a pattern of discrimination?

2. Did the Louisiana Supreme Court erroneously apply the standard of review from Rice v. Collins, a federal habeas corpus case that employed a strict standard not applicable in the present case?

Court below: 

 

An all-white Louisiana jury found Allen Snyder, an African-American man, guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. At trial, the prosecution used peremptory strikes to exclude all black prospective jurors from the jury. The prosecution compared the case to the O.J. Simpson case -- before trial, to reporters, and during sentencing, to the jury. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Louisiana Supreme Court to reconsider its finding of no discriminatory jury selection in light of Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005). On remand, a narrow majority of the Louisiana Supreme Court reaffirmed its initial ruling. Snyder argues that the court misapplied Miller-El by failing to consider "all relevant circumstances" of the prosecution's discriminatory intent at trial and by according the trial court's findings an excessive degree of deference. The State of Louisiana contends that the court properly considered the case according to Miller-El's principles and rightfully excluded evidence not on the record from its analysis. The Supreme Court's decision will influence how future courts and litigants identify and prevent unlawful racial discrimination in jury selection.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Petitioner Allen Snyder, a black man, was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for the fatal stabbing of his wife's male companion. Prior to trial, the prosecutor reported to the media that this was his "O.J. Simpson case." At trial, the prosecutor peremptorily struck all five African-Americans who had survived cause challenges and then, over objection, urged the resulting all-white jury to impose death because this case was like the O.J. Simpson case, where the defendant "got away with it." On initial review, a majority of the Louisiana Supreme Court ignored probative evidence of discriminatory intent, including the prosecutor's O.J. Simpson remarks and argument, and denied Mr. Snyder's Batson claims by a 5-2 vote.

This Court directed the court below to reconsider Mr. Snyder's Batson claims in light of Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005). See Snyder v. Louisiana, 545 U.S. 1137 (2005). On remand, a bare majority adhered to its prior holding, once again disregarding substantial evidence establishing discriminatory intent, including the prosecutor's references to the O.J. Simpson case, the totality of strikes against African-American jurors, and evidence showing a pattern of practice of race-based peremptory challenges by the prosecutor's office. In addition, the majority imposed a new and higher burden on Mr. Snyder, asserting that Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333 (2006), permitted reversal only if "a reasonable factfinder [would] necessarily conclude the prosecutor lied" about the reasons for his strikes. Three justices, including the author of the original opinion, dissented, finding the prosecutor's reference to the O.J. Simpson case in argument to an all-white jury, made "against a backdrop of the issues of race and prejudice," supported the conclusion that the State improperly exercised peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory fashion.

The Louisiana Supreme Court's consideration of Mr. Snyder's Batson claims on remand from this Court raises the following important questions:

1. Did the majority below ignore the plain import of Miller-El by failing to consider highly probative evidence of discriminatory intent, including the prosecutor's repeated comparisons of this case to the O.J. Simpson case, the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to purge all African-Americans from the jury, the prosecutor's disparate questioning of white and black prospective jurors, and documented evidence of a pattern of practice by the prosecutor's office to dilute minority presence in petit juries?

2. Did the majority err when, in order to shore up its holding that Mr. Snyder had failed to prove discriminatory intent, it imported into a direct appeal case the standard of review this Court applied in Rice v. Collins, an AEDPA habeas case?

3. Did the majority err in refusing to consider the prosecutor's first two suspicious strikes on the ground that defense counsel's failure to object could not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel because Batson error does not render the trial unfair or the verdict suspect -- i.e., that failure to raise a Batson objection can never result in prejudice under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) - a holding directly conflicting with decisions from inter alia the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the Alabama and Mississippi Supreme Courts?

Additional Resources 

Submit for publication 

0

Smith v. Texas

Issues 

If the Supreme Court reversed and remanded Smith’s case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after finding that the jury had not been able to adequately consider the mitigating evidence, was the Court of Criminal Appeals’ finding that the violation was a harmless error consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision?

Must a defendant prove that a jury instruction that violated his constitutional rights caused him egregious harm?

 

LaRoyce Lathair Smith, who was sentenced to death in 1991, appears before the Supreme Court for the second time. Smith argues that the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals denied his petition for state habeas corpus relief in contravention of the analysis standards handed down in the Supreme Court’s first opinion. In addition, Smith argues that the Criminal Court of Appeals applied a heightened egregious harm standard to a procedural issue that it failed to consider on direct appeal. Texas, on the other hand, contends that the Criminal Court of Appeals was justified in reconsidering issues not addressed by the Supreme Court and asserts that the standards applied were the prevailing state standards for evaluating Smith’s claim. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case should clarify the proper way for state courts to evaluate defendants’ claims attacking the constitutionality of jury instructions regarding mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase of capital cases.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

In Smith v. Texas, 543 U.S. 37 (2004), this Court summarily reversed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and found constitutional error under Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989) (Penry I), and Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782 (2001) (Penry II). Is it consistent with this Court’s remand in this case for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to deem the error in petitioner’s case harmless based on its view that jurors were in fact able to give adequate consideration and effect to petitioner’s mitigating evidence notwithstanding this Court’s conclusion to the contrary?

Can the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, based on a procedural determination that it declined to adopt in its original decision that this Court then summarily reversed, impose on remand a daunting standard of harm (“egregious harm”) to the constitutional violation found by this Court?

In 1991, 19 year old LaRoyce Lathair Smith was convicted of the capital murder of his coworker, who Smith had pistol whipped and shot. Smith v. Texas, 543 U.S. 37, 38 (2004) (“Smith I”). After Smith was convicted, the jury was tasked with deciding Smith’s sentence. Id. at 39.

Acknowledgments 

Additional Resources 

Submit for publication 

0

Smith v. Spisak

Issues 

Whether the Sixth Circuit applied the proper standards for determining whether a convicted murderer was unfairly affected by jury instructions and his own counsel’s statements during sentencing, when counsel repeatedly referred to the terrible nature of his own client’s acts in closing arguments at the penalty phase of the trial.

 

Respondent, Frank Spisak (“Spisak”), was convicted on four counts of aggravated murder and four other felony counts for engaging in a shooting spree on and around Cleveland State University in 1982. The jury recommended, and the judge accepted, a death sentence. After the Ohio state courts denied Spisak’s appeals, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ordered a new penalty phase of the trial. The Circuit Court held that defense counsel’s deficient performance during the trial’s sentencing phase functionally denied Spisak his Sixth Amendment right to effective legal representation. The Sixth Circuit held further that the jury instructions regarding sentencing violated the Eighth Amendment, because the jury may have misunderstood them to require a unanimous rejection of the death penalty before considering a life sentence. On its second time before the United States Supreme Court, Ohio argues that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") requires the federal courts to defer to the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to deny Spisak’s Sixth and Eighth Amendment claims.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Did the Sixth Circuit contravene the directives of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") and Carey v. Musladin, 127 S. Ct. 649 (2006), when it applied Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988), to resolve in a habeas petitioner's favor questions that were not decided or addressed in Mills?
  2. Did the Sixth Circuit exceed its authority under AEDPA when it applied United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648 (1984), to presume that a habeas petitioner suffered prejudice from several allegedly deficient statements made by his trial counsel during closing argument instead of deferring to the Ohio Supreme Court's reasonable rejection of the claim under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)?

In 1983, Frank Spisak (“Spisak”) was convicted of murdering a minister and three students in a racially and homophobically motivated shooting spree at Cleveland State University and was sentenced to death. See Spisak v. Mitchell, 465 F.3d 684, 688 (6th Cir.

Edited by 

Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank Professor John Blume and Professor Faust Rossi for their insights on this case. John Blume is a Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and the Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project. Faust Rossi is the Samuel S. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques at Cornell University and a co-author of the Brief of Amici Curiae Steven Lubet, et al., in support of Respondent.

Additional Resources 

·      Wex: Law about Criminal Procedure

·      Capital Punishment in Context: Juror’s Understandings and Misunderstandings

·      Charles Doyle, Federation of American Scientists: Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty (Jun. 3, 1996)

Submit for publication 

0

Schriro v. Landrigan

Issues 

Whether a state appellate court's interpretation of trial court proceedings is a finding of fact that is entitled to deference under the AEDPA.

Whether the Supreme Court's ruling in Strickland v. Washington allows a state court to deny an ineffective assistance of counsel claim when the defendant originally waives the presentation of assumedly mitigating evidence, but later claims that the evidence was erroneously excluded, especially when the state court determines that the exclusion of mitigation did not prejudice the sentence.

 

What must a defense attorney do when faced with a client who, after being found guilty of murder, refuses to allow family members to testify prior to his sentencing, even though those family members would introduce evidence that might result in the reduction of his sentence? In this case, the Supreme Court will address the extent to which a criminal defendant may claim that his defense attorney acted incompetently by not introducing mitigating evidence during his trial, even when the defense attorney directly follows his orders not to do so. Furthermore, the Court will determine the extent to which a federal court may review and overturn a defendant's state court sentence if he claims his attorney acted incompetently.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. In light of the highly deferential standard of review required in this case pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), did the

Ninth Circuit err by holding that the Arizona state court unreasonably determined the facts when it found that Landrigan “instructed his attorney not to present any mitigating evidence at the sentencing hearing”?

2. Did the Ninth Circuit err by finding that the Arizona state court's analysis of Landrigan's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was objectively unreasonable under

Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), notwithstanding the absence of any contrary authority from this Court in cases in which (a) the defendant waives presentation of mitigation and impedes counsel's attempts to do so, or (b) the evidence the defendant subsequently claims should have been presented is not mitigating?

An Arizona state court convicted Respondent Jeffrey Landrigan of first-degree murder in 1990. See Petition for Certiorari at 1,2. After Landrigan's conviction, the trial court considered evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. See id at 2.

Acknowledgments 

Submit for publication 

0

Ryan v. Gonzales

Issues 

Does an indigent death-row inmate’s right to counsel in habeas proceedings include a right that the inmate is competent to assist counsel where such a right may create an indefinite delay in executing the inmate’s sentence?

 

An Arizona jury convicted Ernest Valencia Gonzales of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death in 1991. After exhausting his state court options, Gonzales initiated federal habeas proceedings in 1999. Over the next few years, Gonzales began to display signs of delusion and paranoia, refusing a number of attempted visits from his attorney. The district court denied his attorney’s motion to stay the habeas proceedings pending a competency determination. The Ninth Circuit eventually granted mandamus relief, holding that the capital inmate’s right to counsel in federal habeas proceedings under 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2) implicitly includes a right to be competent to assist one’s counsel. Charles L. Ryan, Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, appeals the Ninth Circuit’s decision arguing that the circuit court misread 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2) to include a “right to competency” in assisting counsel. Ryan asserts that such a right would allow for indefinite stays of habeas proceedings based on incompetency that contravene Congress’ intent in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Gonzales contends that district courts have discretion to issue stays, and that such stays are appropriate where incompetency would deprive the capital inmate of “meaningful” right to counsel. This decision implicates federalism concerns over the finality of state court decisions in capital cases and the proper balance between the rights of victims and the rights of inmates.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Several years after Gonzales's counsel initiated federal habeas proceedings and filed an exhaustive petition seeking relief, counsel asserted that Gonzales was incompetent to communicate rationally and the proceedings should be indefinitely stayed pending possible restoration of competency. Based on 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2), the Ninth Circuit agreed, even though Gonzales's claims were record-based or purely legal. 

Did the Ninth Circuit err when it held that 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2)—which provides that an indigent capital state inmate pursuing federal habeas relief "shall be entitled to the appointment of one or more attorneys"—impliedly entitles a death-row inmate to stay the federal habeas proceedings he initiated if he is not competent to assist counsel?

Ernest Valencia Gonzales was charged with murder in 1990, and was tried in the Superior Court of Maricopa County, Arizona. His first trial resulted in a hung jury. See Gonzales v. Schriro 617 F.Supp.2d 849, 856 (D.

Submit for publication 

0

Panetti v. Quarterman

Issues 

Does the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual” punishment ban the execution of a mentally ill prisoner, who, although he knows that he has committed a crime and has been sentenced to death, manifests insane delusions about the real reasons for his execution? What is the standard for determining how “aware” a mentally ill prisoner must be of the reason for his sentence before he may be legally executed?

 

In 1992, Panetti killed his parents-in-law by shooting them at close range inside their Texas home while his wife and daughter watched in terror. After surrendering to police, Panetti was tried, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. Panetti, however, suffers from a long history of mental illness including schizoaffective disorder. Although he understands that he killed two people and he knows that the state’s stated reason for his execution is because of the murders, he believes that the state actually intends to execute him in order to carry out a satanic conspiracy against him. Panetti petitioned both the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a writ of habeas corpus, but both courts upheld Panetti’s execution on the grounds that he is “aware” of his death sentence and its stated purpose. Panetti argues that “awareness” is not enough and that a prisoner must also have a “rational understanding” of the connection between his crime and punishment. By accepting certiorari review of this case, the Supreme Court of the United States will determine whether executing a mentally ill prisoner who lacks “rational understanding” of the reasons for his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Does the Eighth Amendment permit the execution of a death row inmate who has a factual awareness of the reason for his execution but who, because of severe mental illness, has a delusional belief as to why the state is executing him, and thus does not appreciate that this execution is intended to seek retribution for his capital crime?

On September 8, 1992, Scott Louis Panetti, dressed in camouflage military fatigues and donning a recently shaved head, fired a sawed off shotgun at Mr. and Mrs. Alvarado, his parents-in-law, killing them instantly. See Brief for Petitioner Panettiat 7.

Additional Resources 

Law about…Death Penalty

Submit for publication 

0

Oregon v. Guzek

Court below: 

 

Randy Lee Guzek, along with his friends Mark Wilson and Ross Cathey, murdered an Oregon couple in the summer of 1987. After eighteen years of litigation, involving three different appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court held that the alibi testimony Guzek attempted to introduce during the sentencing phase of his trial—statements from his grandfather and his mother placing him at home during the time of the crime—could be introduced as “mitigating evidence” tending to show that Guzek should not receive the death penalty. The State of Oregon took issue with this ruling, and appealed to the Supreme Court. It argues that such evidence cannot be admitted because the so-called “residual doubt” evidence is no longer relevant at the sentencing phase of a defendant’s capital trial. Guzek, on the other hand, argues that the Constitution requires admittance of such evidence at his sentencing phase—he claims that the jury will not improperly use this evidence and that in order to meet the state’s case and refute the state’s evidence, he must be able to introduce the so-called “residual doubt” evidence. The Supreme Court will decide whether Guzek is correct, and whether the trial court is Constitutionally required to admit this “residual doubt” evidence, despite the fact that it might introduce doubt about Guzek’s previously determined and settled guilt.

Randy Lee Guzek has been before the Oregon Supreme Court on three occasions between 1990 and 2004, all regarding the sentencing phase of a capital trial in which he was convicted for the murders of Rod and Lois Houser. Because of the errors in the lower court and intervening new law instituted during the more than fifteen years of Guzek’s trial, the state’s highest court has repeatedly affirmed Guzek’s guilt in the murders, but vacated the jury’s sentence of death.

Submit for publication 

0

Ayestas v. Davis

Issues 

Is the Fifth Circuit’s “substantial need” test for awarding investigative resources to indigent defendants consistent with the requirements of 18 U.S.C. § 3599(f)?

Carlos Manuel Ayestas brought a state habeas petition after he was sentenced to death in Texas for murder. After the state denied his petition in 2008, Ayestas petitioned for federal habeas relief, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. Ayestas requested funding for “investigative, expert, or other services” under 18 U.S.C. § 3599(f) to help support his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Both the district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Ayestas’s claim and denied his § 3599(f) motion, finding that he had not demonstrated a “substantial need” for investigative assistance. Ayestas now challenges this substantial need test on appeal, arguing that it is inconsistent with the text, history, and purpose of § 3599(f). The Director of the Correctional Institutions Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Lorie Davis, on the other hand, argues the test is proper in light of the requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. This case will allow the court to determine the appropriate statutory interpretation of § 3599(f), as well as its applicability to federal habeas proceedings. The case could have significant consequences for the resources available to capital defendants bringing ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether the Fifth Circuit erred in holding that 18 U.S.C. § 3599(f) withholds “reasonably necessary” resources to investigate and develop an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim that state habeas counsel forfeited, where the claimant’s existing evidence does not meet the ultimate burden of proof at the time the § 3599(f) motion is made.

Petitioner Carlos Manuel Ayestas was convicted and sentenced to death for murder in 1995. See Ayestas v. Stephens, 817 F.3d 888, 892 (5th Cir.

Edited by 

Acknowledgments 

Additional Resources 

Submit for publication 

0

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - death penalty