By Amy Howe
on April 19, 2021
at 12:04 p.m.
The sixth amendment gives a defendant in a prosecution the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him”. On Monday the Supreme Court agreed to include the case of Darrell Hemphill, convicted of the 2006 death of a child who was a passenger in a car that drove by during a fight on a Bronx road. The question that the judges have agreed to is whether Hemphill “opened the door” at his trial to use evidence that is normally excluded by the confrontation clause. Hemphill contested the prosecution’s use of a testimony from Nicholas Morris that three eyewitnesses identified as a shooter when he pleaded guilty to possessing a .357 revolver – a different type of weapon than the one that killed the child. Prosecutors introduced the statement after Hemphill tried to blame Morris and collected testimony of the recovery of a 9mm cartridge from Morris’ bedside table shortly after the shooting.
The announcement that the judges would consider Hemphill’s case was on the list of appointments from last week’s private conference. Hemphill’s case was the only addition to the court record for the next fall. The judges also asked the federal government for their views on the Gannett Co. v. Quatrone case, which concerned the standard of pleading for employee benefit cases. There is no time limit for the acting attorney general to submit her assignment.
The court denied a petition for review filed by Frederick Whatley, convicted of murder related to an armed robbery in Georgia. When sentenced, prosecutors ordered Whatley to recreate the crime in front of the jury with a toy gun and shackles on his arms and legs. After unsuccessful appeals, Whatley sought post-conviction relief, arguing that his attorney’s failure to object to his shackles deprived him of his constitutional right to effective assistance from his attorney. Whatley argued that US Supreme Court rulings suggest that it is “inherently disadvantageous” for a defendant to appear in shackles before a jury, but both state courts and lower federal courts denied his claims. On Monday, judges dismissed his appeal alleging that the Georgia courts had inappropriately used the Supreme Court cases regarding the handcuffing to determine whether Whatley’s attorney’s failure to object to his handcuffing was one Difference.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor disagreed with the court’s decision not to take Whatley’s case, saying that she reversed the lower court rulings and sent the case back for retrial. It was “clearly unreasonable,” Sotomayor argued, that the state courts “completely ignore the way in which visible shackles could distort the outcome of a trial condemning capital adulteration.” In particular, Sotomayor explained, jurors who see a defendant in chains “will assume that court officials have determined that those chains are necessary to prevent the accused from escaping the lawyers, judges, or even jurors, or them to attack “- suggesting that he will do so too will be dangerous if sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. In particular, if Whatley had a “relatively low” criminal history, according to Sotomayor, it is “quite likely” that at least one juror would have voted for life in prison rather than the death penalty if Whatley had testified without chains. “Because I would not allow the state to kill Frederick Whatley under such an unconstitutional judgment,” Sotomayor concluded, “I respectfully disagree.”
Sotomayor also issued a statement on the court’s decision to deny review in the case of Sharon Brown, who filed a civil lawsuit against Polk County, Wisconsin and correctional officers there after being cavitated in the prison before the trial for shoplifting charges. Brown urged the Supreme Court to weigh what level of suspicion the fourth amendment requires before police can order such a search – whether it just requires a reasonable suspicion, as the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found in their case, or whether more – such as probable cause and an arrest warrant or an emergency – are required, as Brown claimed. Sotomayor stressed that Brown’s case was “an important question” but agreed to the decision to decline the review, noting that allowing other courts to consider the question “will allow us to resolve the issue at a later date to treat smarter “. However, Sotomayor emphasized, “The level of suspicion required to conduct a search should be largely determined by the availability of less intrusive alternatives.” For example, prison officials could have ordered an x-ray or an ultrasound, which would be less invasive.
Nearly three months after Inauguration Day, judges overturned a 3rd Circuit U.S. Appeals Court ruling denying a challenge to the extension of the deadline for receiving postal ballots in Pennsylvania. Republicans questioning the extension had urged judges to take up their appeal, arguing that the case “raises critically important questions about the conduct of federal elections that have divided the lower courts” – specifically, whether state courts and state officials are the Change electoral rules can be set by the legislature, which the US Constitution gives the power to set rules for federal elections. In a brief filed in late March, the challengers asked the judges to rule the case and claim that it was not in dispute. But if the case is in dispute, the judges should overturn the 3rd Circle decision; The judges decided on the latter option on Monday.
The judges again failed to act against Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s call to the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of a state law banning abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy. The state went to the Supreme Court in June last year after the lower courts ruled the law unconstitutional. The judges have now examined the case at 10 consecutive conferences without reacting to it.
The judges also did not act against the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association against Corlett, which the judges considered for the third time at their conference last week. The case concerns an issue that remains open following the 2008 District of Columbia judges v Heller ruling and their 2010 McDonald v City of Chicago ruling that the second amendment protects the right to have a gun in the home for self-defense: whether and to what extent the second amendment protects the right to carry a pistol outside the home for self-defense.
The judges will meet again for their private conference on Friday, April 23rd.
This post was originally published on Howe on the Court.