Weaver v. Massachusetts
United States Supreme Court | Counsel: Structural error | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U.S. Supreme Court case involving a Massachusetts murderer's claim that his conviction must be reversed because his attorney did not bring to the trial court's attention a trivial error that had no affect on the fairness or reliability of the trial as a whole. In August 2003, Kentel Myrone Weaver was arrested and charged with the murder of 15-year old Germaine Rucker. During jury selection, approximately 90 potential jurors made the courtroom very crowded, thus allowing for standing room only. Due to the crowded conditions, a court officer informed Weaver's mother and those accompanying her that the courtroom was closed for jury selection. They were denied entry on the second day of empanelment for the same reason. Weaver's trial attorney did not object to the closure. Weaver was convicted of first-degree murder in 2006. In 2011, Weaver filed a motion for a new trial claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. Weaver argued that his attorney's failure to object to the courtroom closure during jury empanelment violated his 6th Amendment right to a public trial. The trial court denied the motion finding that even though his attorney's failure to object constituted deficient performance it was not prejudicial to Weaver. On appeal, Weaver argues that because his right to a public trial was erroneously denied, U.S. Supreme Court precedent deems it a "structural error" and prejudice to him is presumed. Because prejudice is presumed in that context, he argues that he does not need to prove prejudice when claiming ineffective assistance of counsel because it should also be presumed in that context as well. CJLF joined the case to argue that there are two separate rights at issue in this case—the right to a public trial and the right to effective assistance of counsel. When a trial attorney inadvertently fails to object to a "structural error," like the right to a public trial, it does not automatically relieve a defendant from proving prejudice. Prejudice is an element of a defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim. CJLF also argues that under a "plain error" analysis, courts are permitted to remedy an error if not doing so would result in a miscarriage of justice. Because the trial attorney's failure to object to the closure during jury selection only did not affect the fairness or reliability of the proceedings as a whole, overturning Weaver's sentence would undermine the public's trust in the criminal justice system.
Davila v. Davis
United States Supreme Court | Habeas corpus: Procedural default & ineffective assistance of appellate counsel | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U.S. Supreme Court case
Hernández v. Mesa
United States Supreme Court | Civil Rights Suits: Bivens extraterritoriality | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U.S. Supreme Court case involving a lawsuit arising from the shooting of a Mexican citizen by a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Sergio Hernández was a juvenile with two prior arrests for alien smuggling when he and other teenagers confronted Agent Jesus Mesa. The facts are disputed. Hernández's parents claim the boys were merely playing a game where they run across the border and touch the fence. Agent Mesa contends that he was stopping a smuggling operation when he was attacked by multiple people throwing rocks. Agent Mesa fired his weapon and killed Hernández, who was across the border in Mexico at the time. There are many acts of Congress that establish remedies for people who claim to have been illegally injured by government agents, but none of them apply in the case of a person who is not a citizen or resident of this country and was injured outside the nation's borders. The question is whether the courts should invent a remedy where Congress has not. CJLF argues that in a case such as this involving relations between the United States and another country, the judicial branch should not step in but should leave the matter to Congress.
Briggs v. Brown
CA Supreme Court | Death penalty: Validity of Prop. 66 | Prelim. Opp. of Intervenor | Int.'s Return to the Order to Show Cause | Brief in Reply to Amicus Curiae Briefs
California Supreme Court case challenging the validity of the major reform of the state's system for reviewing death penalty cases approved by the voters in the November 2016 election. In that election, California voters rejected a proposition to repeal the death penalty and simultaneously approved a reform measure. Two advocates on the losing side of the vote, John Van de Kamp and Ron Briggs, promptly filed a lawsuit to overturn the voters' decision. They claim the measure is invalid as embracing more than one subject, even though it is entirely about capital cases. They also attack the reforms that put limits on the number of times a judgment can be challenged, tightening the limit on how long a murderer has to file a challenge, and setting a five-year standard for the California courts to complete their review. CJLF is part of the legal team for the Yes on 66 campaign committee, which has intervened to defend the initiative.
People v. Farwell
California Supreme Court | Guilty pleas: Boykin/Tahl | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
California Supreme Court case to review a habitual felon’s claim that his conviction of driving without a license should be overturned because the judge failed to instruct him that admitting his guilt to that offense would waive some of his constitutional trial rights. Randolph Farwell was convicted of vehicular manslaughter after his reckless driving resulted in his car hitting a tree at high speed, killing a female passenger. At the time of the crash, Farwell’s license had been suspended after an earlier reckless driving arrest. Farwell also had a previous conviction for burglary. At trial, Farwell and his attorney agreed to admit guilt on the suspended license charge to prevent jurors from hearing the details of the earlier driving arrest. On appeal, Farwell argues that the law requires his conviction to be overturned because the judge did not instruct him on the consequences of his admission of guilt. CJLF has joined the case to oppose Farwell’s claim, arguing that the law actually allows a review of the entire trial court record to determine if he knowingly and intelligently waived his trial rights when he admitted guilt on the driving without a license charge.
Moore v. Texas
U.S. Supreme Court | Death penalty: Retardation | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U. S. Supreme Court case U. S. Supreme Court case to review a Texas murderer’s claim that he is too mentally retarded to be eligible for the death penalty. Bobby James Moore was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1980 shotgun murder of 78-year-old James McCarble during the robbery of a grocery store in Houston. Eyewitnesses testified to seeing Moore shoot the elderly man in the head even though he had his hands up. After more than three decades of failed appeals, Moore now claims that the state’s rules governing the evaluation of mental disability in death penalty cases are unconstitutional, and should comply with the ever-changing standards announced by private associations. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Moore’s claim, CJLF joined the case to argue that allowing private organizations with political agendas to control how states determine if murderers are mentally retarded would throw every state’s process for determining a defendant’s mental competence into turmoil and invite endless litigation over the sentencing of guilty and fully competent murderers such as Moore.
Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado
U.S. Supreme Court | Jury: Juror testimony Subissue | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U. S. Supreme Court case involving a long-standing rule of evidence that protects the secrecy of jury deliberations versus a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to an impartial jury. In May 2007, Miguel Peña-Rodriguez was arrested and charged with attempted sexual assault on a child, unlawful sexual contact, and harassment after an encounter with two teenage sisters in a bathroom where their father was employed. A three-day trial ensued. After entry of a guilty verdict, two jurors spoke with defense counsel alleging that a fellow juror made racially biased statements during deliberations. Peña-Rodriguez submitted affidavits from the two jurors and moved for a new trial. The trial court denied the motion, finding that Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b) barred any inquiry into jury deliberations. The Colorado Court of Appeals and Colorado Supreme Court both affirmed the trial court’s decision. CJLF joined the case to argue that preserving the secrecy of jury deliberations is consistent with the right to a jury trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment and that allowing litigants to peek into the jury room under the guise of determining whether racial bias played a role in the decision-making process is contrary to Congressional intent and U. S. Supreme Court precedent. CJLF also argued that protecting the confidentiality of jury deliberations is fundamental to the uninhibited and forthright discussion that must occur for a jury to wholly focus on reaching the right result.
Beylund v. Levi, No. 14-1507
U.S. Supreme Court | SEARCH & SEIZURE: DUI Implied Consent | DECIDED: 6/23/16 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U. S. Supreme Court decision upholding North Dakota’s implied consent law, which allows the state to suspend the driver’s license of any intoxicated driving suspect who refuses to submit to a breath test. The case involved the 2013 arrest of Michael Beylund on suspicion of drunk driving. Because Beylund was uncooperative with police and failed to provide an adequate breath sample he was arrested and taken to a hospital. After he was advised that, under the state’s implied consent law, his refusal to be tested would result in suspension of his driver’s license, he agreed to be tested. The test showed a blood alcohol level of over three times the legal limit. On appeal, Beylund argued that the state’s implied consent law subjected him to an unconstitutional search. After two state courts rejected his claim, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to consider it. CJLF joined the case to argue that the challenged law is a reasonable tool used in all 50 states to keep intoxicated drivers off the road, and that the privilege to drive is conditioned upon the licensee’s agreement to consent to testing to protect the public from drunk drivers. The Supreme Court agreed.
Johnson v. Lee, No. 15-789
U.S. Supreme Court | HABEAS CORPUS: Adequate State Grounds | DECIDED: 5/31/16 | CJLF Brief
A U. S. Supreme Court case regarding whether a double murderer can reopen challenges to her convictions after they have been properly dismissed by the state courts. On Mother's Day 1995, Donna Lee and Paul Carasi murdered Carasi's mother, Doris Carasi, and Sonia Salinas, who was Carasi's previous girlfriend and the mother of his child. The California Court of Appeal considered and rejected the claims that Lee raised on appeal. In a second review of the case, called habeas corpus, the state courts properly refused to consider claims that Lee could have raised in the initial appeal, but did not. Nearly all states and the federal courts have similar Procedural default" rules. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reopened these weak claims, requiring a new round of litigation, by declaring California's rule "inadequate" merely because its courts do not mechanically apply in every instance, but sometimes deny claims on the merits instead. CJLF has filed a brief asking the U. S. Supreme Court to review this decision. In a system of limited resources and long delays, scarce resources should not be spent routinely relitigating defaulted claims in final cases. Such reopening should be limited to cases with strong claims of actual innocence.
Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373
U.S. Supreme Court | SEARCH & SEIZURE: Exclusionary Rule | DECIDED: 6/20/16 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
A U.S. Supreme Court case considering whether valid evidence of crime obtained in a search incident to a valid arrest must be suppressed because of a good-faith mistake by a police officer making an investigatory stop leading up to the arrest. A narcotics detective conducting surveillance of a suspected drug operation suspected that Strieff was involved and stopped him briefly in a convenience store parking lot. When he learned Strieff's identity and discovered there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest, he arrested Strieff. A legal search incident to arrest discovered evidence of drug dealing. The prosecutor conceded that the evidence the detective had to suspect Strieff before the initial stop was not quite sufficient to meet the required threshold of "reasonable suspicion" for such a stop. The state court of appeals held that the outstanding arrest warrant and the legal arrest on that warrant were intervening factors sufficient to make the evidence admissible. The Utah Supreme Court disagreed and reversed. CJLF has filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to go beyond the narrow question presented and examine the more fundamental question of whether a good-faith mistake by an officer who genuinely and reasonably believed he was making a valid stop should require the drastic remedy of excluding valid evidence of crime.
Montgomery v. Louisiana, No. 14-280
U.S. Supreme Court | HABEAS CORPUS: Retroactivity of Miller | DECIDED: 1/25/16 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
In 1963, 17-year-old Henry Montgomery murdered a Sheriff’s Deputy. At the time, the intentional murder of a police officer was a death penalty crime, but the sentencing jury recommended LWOP for Montgomery. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a jury could sentence a juvenile murderer to LWOP after considering the murderer’s youth as a mitigating factor, but did not apply it to older cases. In 2014, Montgomery asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to overturn his sentence because Miller should apply retroactively to require re-sentencing in his case. After the state court denied his claim, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Court's ruling announced a change in procedure rather than substance and that Montgomery received a fair trial and was properly sentenced for his crime in 1963. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Court's 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama applies retroactively.
HCRC v. USDJ , No. 14-16928
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals | HABEAS CORPUS: Capital fast track | DECIDED: 3/23/2016 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
A U. S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning a 2013 order by District Judge Claudia Wilken that had blocked the fast-track process for federal appeals of state death penalty cases enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. The judge's ruling was based upon the claim of a group of government-paid defense attorneys that the process would work a hardship on them. Efforts by the states of Texas and Arizona to be approved for the fast-track process were stopped by Judge Wilken's ruling. When the U. S. Justice Department appealed that ruling, CJLF joined the case on behalf of two family members of murder victims, Marc Klaas of California and Edward Hardesty of Arizona. CJLF argued that the defense attorneys did not have a legal right (standing) to challenge the law and that it was not appropriate for the district court to review any challenge at this time. The Ninth Circuit opinion used argument and research introduced by the Foundation to overturn the ruling and dismiss the lawsuit.
Kansas v. Carr/Gleason, Nos. 14-449, 14-450, 14-452
U.S. Supreme Court | DEATH PENALTY: Jury instructions | DECIDED: 1/20/2016 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
A U.S. Supreme Court case reversing a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that had thrown out a standard instruction for juries in capital cases. The Carr brothers engaged in a crime spree that started with a carjacking and battery, continued with another robbery and murder, and culminated in a horrible crime of home invasion robbery, sadistic sex crimes, and the cold-blooded murder of five of the victims and attempted murder of the sixth. In the separate Gleason case, Gleason committed a robbery and then murdered an accomplice and her boyfriend to keep them quiet. The juries in both cases were instructed, correctly under Kansas law, that aggravating circumstances had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, but they were not instructed on any burden of proof for mitigating circumstances submitted to them by the defendants. The Kansas Supreme Court, in an exercise in strained logic, decided that the jury might assume that the mitigating circumstances also had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt if not expressly told otherwise. CJLF joined the case to argue that the instructions were proper. The National District Attorneys Association and the California District Attorneys Association joined the brief. The United States Supreme Court agreed by an 8-1 vote and reversed the decision, reinstating the death sentences.
Glossip v. Gross, No. 14-7955
U.S. Supreme Court | DEATH PENALTY: Lethal Injection | DECIDED: 6/29/15 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
A U. S. Supreme Court case brought by three condemned murderers arguing that Oklahoma’s execution process is unconstitutional because it might cause pain. One of the murderers in this case hired a contract killer to beat a man to death with a baseball bat; another bent his 9-month-old daughter backwards, killing her because her crying interrupted his video game; and the third stabbed a female food service supervisor to death while he was serving a 130-year prison sentence for multiple armed robberies. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Constitution does not guarantee a pain-free execution, and lethal injection only requires a level of anesthesia to prevent extreme pain. CJLF also argued that when murderers challenge an execution method as unconstitutional they are required to present an alternative method that does comply with the Constitution. The Court’s decision adopted both of these points.
Jones v. Davis, No. 14-56373
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals | DEATH PENALTY: Delays | DECIDED: 11/12/15 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed a ruling that overturned the death sentence of rapist/murderer Ernest Dewayne Jones. The federal judge had ruled that delays in enforcing the law in California meant that executing murderers "will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary." Jones was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1992 rape and murder of his girlfriend's mother. Substantial evidence, including a DNA match of his sperm in the victim's body, confirmed his guilt. Jones had been convicted of raping another woman six years earlier. CJLF joined the appeal of the judge's ruling to argue that much of the delay in death penalty cases is the result of repeated and lengthy reviews by the federal courts and cannot be blamed on the state. The Foundation also argued that the federal judge's ruling creates a new rule of law on habeas corpus, which violates U. S. Supreme Court precedent. The Ninth Circuit overturned the federal judge's ruling.
Ohio v. Clark, No. 13-1352
U.S. Supreme Court | EVIDENCE: Child Statements | DECIDED: 6/18/15 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision to reinstate an Ohio child abuser’s conviction. The Ohio Supreme Court had held that allowing the teachers who discovered the victim’s injuries to testify about what the child told them violated the criminal’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him. The case involved the 2010 conviction of Darius Clark for the beating of his girlfriend’s three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. When preschool teachers noticed bruises on the little boy’s face, they asked him who hurt him. When he responded that Clark had hit him, they reported the incident to child protective services who located the boy and his sister and took them to a hospital where other injuries to both children were discovered. On appeal, Clark won a decision announcing that the testimony of the teachers at this trial was unconstitutional. When the state appealed that ruling, CJLF joined the case to argue that a statement made to a first responder, whether a policeman or someone else, is not the same as a statement taken by an investigator building a case against a known suspect. The statement to the investigator is “testimonial” as that term is used by the Supreme Court, and the statement to the first responder, or in this case, a teacher, is not. The Supreme Court’s decision agreed.
Elonis v. United States, No. 13-983
U.S. Supreme Court | FIRST AMENDMENT: Threats | DECIDED: 6/1/15 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U. S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who posted threats on Facebook to brutally murder his estranged wife and a female FBI agent. In 2010, after his wife left him, and he was fired from his job for sexually harassing a female employee, Anthony Elonis began posting threats to murder his wife on his Facebook page, including a statement that he would not stop until “your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.” After Elonis refused an interview with a female FBI agent, he posted about slitting her throat. Following his conviction in 2011 for transmitting threats, Elonis appealed, arguing that his conviction was unconstitutional because it was not proven that he specifically intended to threaten his victims. CJLF joined the Supreme Court review of the case to argue that, while there was no high court precedent on this issue, nine of the eleven federal circuit courts have held that the transmission of threats is a general intent crime, requiring only that a reasonable person would recognize his statements as threats. The Court’s ruling held that the criminal transmission of threats requires a state of mind somewhere above negligence. The Court did not address whether recklessness would be sufficient, either under the statute or the First Amendment. If it is, the law would be largely unchanged, as a practical matter. Because the key issues remain undecided, we count this as a draw.
Jennings v. Stephens, No. 13-7211
U.S. Supreme Court | HABEAS CORPUS: Issues on appeal | DECIDED: 1/14/15 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U. S. Supreme Court ruling allowing a condemned cop killer to raise on appeal an allegation challenging his conviction on federal habeas corpus even though it had been rejected by a lower court. The case involved the conviction of Robert Lee Jennings for murdering a Houston police officer during a 1988 robbery. After his conviction and sentence had been upheld by the state’s highest court on direct appeal, Jennings raised allegations challenging the competence of his trial attorney before a federal district court on habeas corpus. The court denied one of his allegations, but accepted others. When the federal appeals court refused to hear the denied allegation on appeal, the Supreme Court agreed to review that holding. CJLF joined the case seeking a decision requiring that all allegations included in a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel be considered together as one claim on appeal, even if a lower court denies some of them. A decision requiring this would have simplified and shortened the post-conviction review of death penalty cases. In its ruling, the court chose not to confront the "claim" issue, but allowed the defendant to raise his rejected allegation.
Hall v. Florida, No. 12-10882
U.S. Supreme Court | DEATH PENALTY: Retardation | DECIDED: 5/27/14 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U. S. Supreme Court decision announcing that, when determining the IQ of a murder defendant who claims he is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally retarded, states should not use a rigid cutoff score that does not account for a margin of error. The case involved a murderer’s claim that the IQ requirement for mental retardation should be expanded from a score of below 70 to a range of 67 to 75. In 1981, Freddie Lee Hall, and an accomplice, kidnapped a 21-year-old pregnant woman from a grocery store parking lot and drove her into the woods where she was raped, beaten, and shot to death. After two decades of appeals upholding Hall’s conviction and sentence, the Supreme Court decided in another case that executing the mentally retarded was unconstitutional. At that time, the Florida Legislature had already adopted a nationally accepted standard, which included an IQ below 70 to qualify. Hall, whose lowest admissible IQ score was 71, asked the Supreme Court to broaden the range to include him. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Hall’s appeal, CJLF accepted the Florida Attorney General’s request to join the case. CJLF argued that standards for mental retardation should be left up to the states. Otherwise, well-deserved sentences for clearly guilty murderers will be held up for years as these issues are endlessly reviewed.
White v. Woodall, No. 12-794
U.S. Supreme Court | HABEAS CORPUS: 2254(d) | DECIDED: 4/23/14 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U.S. Supreme Court decision to reverse a 2012 federal appeals court ruling which had improperly held the murderer's death sentence unconstitutional. Undisputed evidence, including a DNA match, proved that on the evening of January 25, 1997, Woodall kidnapped high school cheerleader Sarah Hansen from a convenience store and took her to a nearby lake where he raped and beat her before slitting her throat. After Woodall pled guilty to the crimes, the sentencing jury heard testimony from 14 witnesses supporting a life sentence, but Woodall did not take the stand. Following his conviction and sentence, Woodall won a federal court ruling overturning his death sentence, announcing that the judge had violated his rights by failing to tell the jury to ignore his decision not to testify. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, CJLF accepted the Kentucky Attorney General's invitation to file argument. The Foundation argued that there is no Supreme Court precedent requiring a "no adverse inference" instruction at a sentencing hearing and, as such, the claim was properly denied by the state courts. The brief noted that the federal appeals court had exceeded its authority in order to void Woodall's sentence. The Supreme Court's decision overturning the lower court decision cited CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger for providing a key argument.
People v. Moffett, No. S206771
California Supreme Court | JUVENILES: LWOP | DECIDED: 5/5/14 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
California Supreme Court case involving a criminal (a few days short of his 18th birthday) who was an accessory to the murder of a police officer during the attempted escape from an armed robbery. Andrew Moffett was convicted of the murder of Officer Larry Lasater, which is a death penalty offense for murderers 18 and over. Because of his age, he received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP). During sentencing, the judge noted that she was exercising her discretion to give him LWOP rather than life with parole due to the circumstances of the crime. While Moffett’s case was on appeal, the U. S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, abolished mandatory LWOP for murderers under 18. The state Court of Appeals then overturned Moffett’s sentence, announcing that it violated the "spirit" of Miller. When the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the state’s appeal, CJLF filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Officer Lasater’s wife, mother, and brother, arguing to reinstate Moffett’s sentence. The brief notes that the Miller ruling bars mandatory LWOP for murderers under the age of 18, while California law is not mandatory and gives judges sentencing discretion.
Brown v. Plata, No. 13A57
U.S. Supreme Court | PRISONS: Release Order | DECIDED: 8/2/13 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
United States Supreme Court case seeking review of the refusal of a three-judge district court to reconsider its order imposing an arbitrary cap on the California prison population. CJLF filed a brief on behalf of all four of California's living former governors supporting a request for a stay of this order. The Court denied the stay. Its subsequent disposition of the appeal indicates that the basis was a question of jurisdiction rather than the merits of the case.
Kansas v. Cheever, No. 12-609
U.S. Supreme Court | SELF-INCRIMINATION: Mental examination | Decided: 12/11/13 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U. S. Supreme Court review of a Kansas ruling, which if upheld would prevent juries from considering vital evidence in cases where the defendant claims a mental defense. In 2005, drug dealer Scott Cheever shot and killed the Greenwood County Sheriff in front of several witnesses. Cheever claimed he was too high on drugs to have intended to kill the Sheriff. Kansas law does not require the defendant to submit to an examination by a court-appointed psychiatrist in these circumstances. However, Cheever’s trial was initiated in federal court, which does have such a requirement, so a psychiatrist examined Cheever and submitted findings disputing the claim. The federal case was dismissed after Cheever’s defense attorney was unable to proceed, and a new trial was held in a Kansas court. At trial, the judge allowed the psychiatrist to testify in rebuttal to Cheever’s expert. After a jury found Cheever guilty and sentenced him to death, he won a Kansas Supreme Court ruling announcing that the U. S. Constitution only allows use of a compelled examination when the defendant claims a mental disease but not for an intoxication defense. At the Kansas Attorney General’s invitation, our Foundation joined the Supreme Court appeal to argue that the Constitution does not bar this evidence for any type of mental defense and that the Kansas ruling should be overturned. The high court unanimously agreed with our position.
Salinas v. Texas, No. 12-246
U.S. Supreme Court | SELF-INCRIMINATION: Prearrest silence | DECIDED: 6/17/13 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U.S. Supreme Court case involving the admissibility of evidence in a double murder. Genovevo Salinas was suspected in the shotgun murder of brothers Juan and Hector Garza in Houston, Texas. His father gave the police his shotgun to examine. Salinas voluntarily went to the police station, not under arrest. He voluntarily answered the officer's questions except when he was asked if the shotgun would match the shells found at the crime scene. The trial court found that his silence and nervous demeanor were admissible, and he was convicted. He challenges this ruling under the Fifth Amendment. CJLF's brief argued that the constitutional right not to "be compelled . . . to be a witness" was not violated. By voluntarily speaking with the police, Salinas chose to be a witness. He was not compelled. The entire interview, including his nonanswer to one question, is admissible. The Supreme Court affirmed in a divided opinion. The plurality opinion holds that beause Salinas did not expressly invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege, his silence and demeanor could properly be considered.
Connecticut v. Santiago, No. S.C. 17413
Connecticut Supreme Court | DEATH PENALTY: Prospective-only repeal | DECIDED: 8/25/15 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
Connecticut Supreme Court case in which a murderer sought to overturn the legislature's decision, of a 2012 law, to leave the death penalty in place for prior murders, while repealing it for future murders. CJLF was asked to join the case by Dr. William Petit, who survived a brutal 2007 home invasion robbery that resulted in the sexual assault and murder of his wife and two daughters. The two felons convicted of these crimes were sentenced to death prior to the law's enactment. CJLF argued that applying a law retroactively would violate the Legislature's constitutional authority to determine the scope of the laws it enacts. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the law violates the state constitution.
Trevino v. Thaler, No. 11-10189
U.S. Supreme Court | HABEAS CORPUS: Procedural Default | DECIDED: 5/28/13 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U.S. Supreme Court case considering the limits on the number of times a convicted murderer can reopen his case. Trevino and other members of his gang abducted, raped, sodomized, and murdered Linda Sanchez, who was only 15 years old. Trevino's identity as a major participant in this atrocity was confirmed by a DNA test matching him to a blood stain on Linda's underwear. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Texas provided counsel to enable him to challenge his trial in two separate reviews of the case, including challenges to the effectiveness of his trial attorney. In federal court, Trevino wanted to make yet more claims against the effectiveness of his trial attorney, and he claimed the supposed ineffectiveness of his attorneys in the later review procedures as cause for not raising these claims earlier. The Federal District Court found that this basis for raising new claims this late in the process was contrary to a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Coleman v. Thompson, won by CJLF. In addition, Trevino's belated mitigating evidence was so weak in comparison to the horrific crime and his utter lack of remorse that it would have made no difference. Trevino asked the U.S. Supreme Court to carve a large loophole in the Coleman rule, which would allow murderers to make belated claims in this situation, even if the claims have nothing to do with guilt of the crime. CJLF argued that the Coleman precedent is correct and should be maintained intact. A narrow majority of the Supreme Court agreed with the murderer, creating an exception that will further dleay justice in capital cases if not corrected.
Cook v. FDA, Nos. 12-5176, 12-5266
District of Columbia | DEATH PENALTY: Importation of Drugs | DECIDED: 7/23/13 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
Unanimous decision by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit, which overturned a federal district judge’s March 2012 ruling that ordered the FDA to confiscate existing stocks of the execution drug sodium thiopental from state departments of corrections. In a lawsuit brought by 25 condemned murderers facing execution in Arizona, California, and Tennessee, the District Court held that the drug, which is widely used for executions, was illegally obtained from its foreign manufacturer and had to be confiscated. On November 12, 2012, the Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court of Appeals, arguing that the district judge’s order, which affects dozens of states who were not parties in the case, violates federal rules and the rights of affected states and ignores a fundamental requirement of due process. The court’s opinion cited and thanked the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation for providing a key argument it utilized in its decision.
Chaidez v. United States, No. 11-820
U.S. Supreme Court | HABEAS CORPUS: Retroactivity | DECIDED: 2/2/13 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U.S. Supreme Court case involving the use of a new rule to overturn convictions entered years ago. Roselva Chaidez was convicted of fraud for her part in an insurance scam, claiming injuries in an accident that never happened. Immigration law requires aliens who commit frauds over $10,000 to be deported. Several years later, she falsely claimed on a naturalization petition that she had never been convicted of a crime, and the government began deportation proceedings. She now claims her conviction should be overturned because her criminal defense lawyer did not advise her of the immigration consequences of a plea, even though that was not a ground for overturning a plea at the time and even though she made no claim she did not commit the offense. In 2010, the Supreme Court created a new rule of law allowing guilty pleas to be attacked on this basis. The case threatens the landmark precedent of Teague v. Lane, won by CJLF in 1989. That case held that new rules of procedure cannot be used to go back and overturn convictions that are already final. Without this rule, many thousands of final convictions would be subject to overturning every time the Supreme Court alters the rules of procedure, as it often does. CJLF entered the case to argue that the rule against retroactivity strikes the correct balance and should be preserved. The high court agreed and left the judgment intact.
In re Reno, No. S124660
California Supreme Court | HABEAS CORPUS: Successive Petitions | DECIDED: 8/30/12 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
California Supreme Court decision announcing that the lengthy and reptitive petitions for post-conviction review in death penalty cases constitute an abuse of the process and establishing new rules to reduce delay. the case involved the 1986 conviction and death sentenceof pedophile Harold Memro for the brutal murders of three young boys in Los Angeles. After his conviction and sentence were affirmed by the state Supreme Court, Memro changed his name to Reno and filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court, which included several unexhausted claims. In 2004, Reno presented those claims in the California Supreme Court. Over the next six years, the court granted 21 extensions to allow further argument. The Attorney General invited CJLF to submit argument showing why Reno's petition constituted an abuse of the legal process. CJLF noted that the current process in California allows defense attorneys to introduce several hundred-page petitions with score of meritless claims, although U.S. Supreme Court precedent encourages counsel to abandon weak claims and focus appeals on a few key issues. The California court's decision adopted that argument and set strict limits on future petitions.
Loya v. Bowen (Petition), No. S124660
Cal.3d District Court of Appeal | INITIATIVES: Single Subject Rule | DECIDED: 5/30/12 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
California Court of Appeal case involving a CJLF lawsuit on behalf of Phyllis Loya, whose son, Police Officer Larry Lasater, was murdered in the line of duty in 2005. The suit alleged that California Proposition 34, a ballot initiative to abolish the death penalty and withdraw $100,000,000 from the state general fund for distribution to law enforcement agencies to help solve crimes, violates the state's requirement that ballot measures present only a single subject to the voters. CJLF argued that the initiative, which purports to help victims by providing aditional funding to law enforcement while also reducing the punishment for the state's worst murderers is a cruel hoax designed to force dilemma on the public. The Court of Appeal denied the petition. The voters subsequently rejected the initiative.
Winchell v. Cate
Winchell v. Cate (Exhibits to Petition)
Winchell v. Cate (Reply to Opposition), Cal.3d District Court of Appeal, No. C070851
Winchell v. Cate Petition for Supreme Court Review), California Supreme Court, No. S203526
DEATH PENALTY: Lethal Injection | DECIDED: 8/8/12
California case filed by CJLF on behalf of Bradley Winchell, whose sister Terri was brutally murdered in 1981. The murderer has now been on death row for 29 years. Michael Morales's execution has been delayed since 2006 by a federal judge pondering a claim that the state's three-drug execution process may be painful, and by a Marin County Superior Court judge considering whether the state's execution protocol was properly adopted under the Administrative Procedure Act. In the suit, CJLF argued that for all of the past six years the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has had the legal authority to adopt a court-approved, one-drug execution process and move forward with Morales's execution. CJLF argued that the CDCR delay violated the constitutional rights of the victim's family. The Foundation sought a writ ordering CDCR to utilize the one-drug process (approved for use in Washington, Arizons, and Idaho) to end the delay of justice in this case. The Third District Court of Appeal denied the petition, and the California Supreme Court denied review.
United States v. Alvarez, No. 11-210
U.S. Supreme Court | FOURTH AMENDMENT: Stolen Valor Act | DECIDED: 6/28/2012 | CJLF Amicus Curiae Brief
U. S. Supreme Court case considering the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act, a law enacted by Congress to prohibit the false claiming of military medals. Xavier Alvarez, a member of a California water district board, made numerous false claims about his military record, including being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In fact, he has never served in the military. He was convicted under the Stolen Valor Act and sentenced to probation, a fine, and community service. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the conviction, finding that the Stolen Valor Act violates the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. In the Supreme Court, CJLF entered the case, filing a brief on behalf of the Legion of Valor of the United States and itself. Our brief argues that the Act only prohibits lies, not mistakes, parodies, or theatrical performances, and that lies are not protected under the First Amendment. In a splintered decision, the Court decided that the Act as presently drafted is not constitutional.