The Supreme Court today heard argument in one of the most prominent death penalty cases of the last few decades, that of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. News reports from the Washington Post and CNN — neither outlet being friendly to capital punishment — suggest that the Court will reverse the First Circuit and re-instate Tsarnaev’s thoroughly earned death sentence.
Category: Death Penalty
The U.S. Supreme Court opened its October 2021 Term today, the First Monday in October. As usual, it released an orders list from last week’s conference containing many denials of certiorari, a number of “vacate and remand” orders for lower courts to reconsider judgments based on decisions from last term, a few individual opinions regarding denial of certiorari, and no grants for full briefing and argument. The latter were in the short list issued last Thursday.
Among the notable denials is Deck v. Blair, No. 20-8333, denying review of the Eighth Circuit’s reinstatement of the death sentence of Carman Deck for the 1996 murder of an elderly couple, James and Zelma Long. Deck had to be sentenced to death three times in this case because of erroneous decisions by the Supreme Court itself, one in Deck’s own initial case and another that caused his second sentence to be overturned in state court. CJLF filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Long family in the Eighth Circuit. The State of Missouri may now proceed with long-overdue justice, absent any extraordinary interventions by the courts. Continue reading . . .
Congratulations to Mike and Kent for their work that paid off today in a unanimous California Supreme Court ruling rejecting an audacious, broad-brush challenge to the state’s death penalty.
The CJLF press release starts:
In a unanimous decision announced today, the California Supreme Court rejected a double-murderer’s claim that the state has misapplied its death penalty law since it was enacted 42 years ago, invalidating every death sentence handed down since 1978.
Specifically, Donte Lamont McDaniel argued that the law required sentencing juries to find each aggravating factor of a murder true beyond a reasonable doubt and find that a death sentence is appropriate beyond a reasonable doubt, but that no court has ever complied with those requirements.
I have long been critical on this blog of the way major polling organizations phrase their questions on the death penalty. Professors Joseph Bessette and Andrew Sinclair of Claremont McKenna College have done it right. They have this article at Real Clear Policy explaining their work and results. The full technical report is here. (Hint: no one familiar with my prior posts will be surprised at the results.) Continue reading . . .
Attorney General Merrick Garland yesterday announced that he is suspending use of the federal death penalty:
“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” said Attorney General Garland. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”
What to make of this announcement, and of its timing?
The U.S. Supreme Court wrapped up its October 2020 Term with a summary reversal of a federal court of appeals decision for — you guessed it — giving the state court insufficient credit as required by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s so-called “deference” provision, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). This time it was the Eleventh Circuit, further undermining my old “circuits divisible by three” rule.
The twist in Dunn v. Reeves, No. 20-1084 is that the Eleventh had based its holding on Justice Sotomayor’s dissent from denial of certiorari earlier in the same case. The unsigned opinion of the Court rebukes the Eleventh for its failure to properly observe § 2254(d), noting that the case is in a different posture on habeas corpus than on the Supreme Court’s direct review of a state court decision. Despite that difference, Justice Sotomayor is livid, with a dissent as long as the opinion of the Court. Continue reading . . .
We put the finishing touches on CJLF’s friend-of-the-court brief in the Marathon Bomber case yesterday. Links will be available to the PDF version here and on our main website Monday after it is filed.
As Bill noted Tuesday, the Government followed through with a brief on the merits seeking reinstatement of the death sentence despite the present Administration’s anti-death-penalty stance. It does appear that the political types stepped back and let the pros do their job. They produced a brief up to the high standards of the Solicitor General’s Office–thoroughly researched and well-written. Continue reading . . .
Yesterday, I wrote that the stench of politics had taken hold at the Justice Department when, at the last minute, it decided to deep-six a brief supporting the sound analysis of the Eleventh Circuit in a crack cocaine sentencing case and argue instead that the overall “intent” of two leniency-oriented statutes, the Fair Sentencing Act and the First Step Act, should displace their plain text. A unanimous SCOTUS made short work of DOJ’s lame appeal to duck the words Congress chose in favor of a more Oprah Winfrey-like approach. The only conceivable reason for the Department’s unprincipled, embarrassing and (fortunately) futile action was politics — specifically, that pro-drug and pro-criminal elements in the President’s political base simply wanted what they wanted. That DOJ at its highest levels would so easily be chased away from a sober approach to its legal obligations is alarming.
I’m happy to report that, today, we saw a different face.
Here are the opening paragraphs of this story, reported by the NYT:
For the first time in almost half a century, support for the death penalty has dipped below 50 percent in the United States.
Just 49 percent of Americans say they support capital punishment, according to a Pew Research Center poll … That represents a seven-point decline in about a year and a half. Support peaked at 80 percent in 1994.
The death penalty has had majority support among Americans for 45 years. The last time support was as low as it now stands was in 1971.
Not good news for the folks on my side of the issue. But wait, there’s a catch.