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October 18, 2006 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Krishna Maharaj is a British businessman who was convicted of the 1986 murder of a Jamaican father and son in a hotel room in Miami, Florida. He was given the death penalty, but this was commuted to a life sentence in 2002 due to irregularities in his trial. Well, "irregularities" is an understatement: none of Maharaj's seven alibi witnesses were called to the stand. Maharaj is widely understood to be innocent, and another prime suspect has been identified. In 2001, 300 British politicians wrote to Jeb Bush, requesting a retrial. Considering this possibility in 2004, the Florida judge said that “newly discovered evidence which goes only to guilt or innocence is insufficient to warrant relief" and denied the motion. The US Supreme Court refused to take the case. Krishna Maharaj must now rely on the mercy of Jeb Bush.
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posted by thirteenkiller (58 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Considering this possibility in 2004, the Florida judge said that “newly discovered evidence which goes only to guilt or innocence is insufficient to warrant relief" and denied the motion.

WTF? Is Florida the rough equivalent of the "short bus" of America?
posted by clevershark at 1:13 PM on October 18, 2006


America is a scary ass country.
posted by chunking express at 1:18 PM on October 18, 2006


WTF? Is Florida the rough equivalent of the "short bus" of America?

An actual lawyer might want to correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that new evidence alone is insufficent to grant a retrial most anywhere in the U.S., only "reversable errors."

I don't know why, and it seems weird to me, but it's not just a Florida thing.
posted by Snyder at 1:27 PM on October 18, 2006


It is inadvisable for anyone to rely on the mercy of Jeb Bush for any reason.

Once a criminal conviction is achieved, it is insanely difficult to get the penal system of Florida to relinquish its grip on the convict, even if he or she is innocent. Just ask Wilton Dedge, imprisoned in Florida for 22 years for a rape he did not commit. Only conclusive DNA evidence was able to free him, with the able asssitance of The Innocence Project.

I am sure that there is no similar exculpatory DNA for Mr. Maharaj. Under Florida law, only evidence that conclusively establishes innocence and makes prosecution impossible is sufficient to overturn a criminal conviction. It was extrememly fortunate for Mr. Dedge that the victim's rape kit had been preserved and that DNA testing was able to conclusively exclude him as the perpetrator of the crime.
posted by rdone at 1:33 PM on October 18, 2006


IANAL too, but as far as I know, Snyder is right.

And the Supreme Court agrees with him. After all, as Scalia so vibrantly put it:

"Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached." (Herrera v. Collins 506 US 390 1993)

Really, who could argue with THAT? Sounds reasonable to me.

/YES I am being sarcastic
posted by InnocentBystander at 1:47 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Maybe Jeb might come to his rescue if he were to lapse into a coma?
posted by taosbat at 1:51 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


America is a scary ass country.

Never heard of that country.

As for Krishna Maharaj, I say good luck. You need it.

How could new evidence that goes to guilt or innocence not warrant a new trial? For christ sakes if it proves someone innocent what more do you need?
posted by a3matrix at 2:07 PM on October 18, 2006


Florida isn't the short bus.

Florida is America's wang.
posted by nyxxxx at 2:13 PM on October 18, 2006


"Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached." (Herrera v. Collins 506 US 390 1993)

Exactly what I was going to post. Herrera is arguably one of the most horrifying Supreme Court decisions of the modern era.
posted by scody at 2:17 PM on October 18, 2006


I'm not a lawyer either, but I believe the reasoning goes something like this:

At any trial, evidence both supporting and rebutting the defendant's innocence are presented. The jury reaches their decision in spite of the fact that there may well be some evidence that they are innocent, because on the basis of the weight of all of the evidence, they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If additional evidence alone was sufficient to grant a retrial, then every Tom, Dick and Harry would be demanding one whenever any little thing that cast doubt on their conviction came to light.

The situation is much the same here in the UK. Principle grounds include:

* misdirection of law;
* non-direction on the law;
* failure to refer to a defence;
* misdirection on the facts;
* inappropriate comment by the judge;
* wrongful admission or exclusion of the evidence;
* defects in the indictment;
* rejection of no case to answer;
* jury irregularities;
* irregularity in relation to verdict;
* prosecution responsibilities such as non-disclosure or late change in nature of the case.

Again, all errors in how the law is applied, nothing there about new evidence coming to light either.

We've got more than a few such cases here in the UK. Barry George, the alleged killer of Jill Dando springs most rapidly to mind.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:23 PM on October 18, 2006


PeterMcDermott writes '* failure to refer to a defence;'

So in the UK he would get a retrial because of the six alibi witnesses who weren't called?

InnocentBystander writes '"Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached." (Herrera v. Collins 506 US 390 1993)'

Jesus. Shitting. Christ.
posted by jack_mo at 2:35 PM on October 18, 2006


chunkingexpress: "America is a scary ass country."

PeterMcDermott: "The situation is much the same here in the UK."

Jesus, the UK is scary now, too. Is there anywhere it's not scary? Maybe I should move to Canada, which I'm sure is utterly free of miscarriages of justice.
posted by koeselitz at 2:45 PM on October 18, 2006


Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I am sure they're utterly free of fatal miscarriages of justice.
posted by gigawhat? at 2:54 PM on October 18, 2006


So in the UK he would get a retrial because of the six alibi witnesses who weren't called?

If you could make the case that your lawyers were incompetent, then you could. However, if your lawyers were perfectly competent but chose to not call them for strategic reasons, then probably not.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:05 PM on October 18, 2006


From now on I'm hiring incompetent lawyers, just to be safe!
posted by mazola at 3:08 PM on October 18, 2006



If additional evidence alone was sufficient to grant a retrial, then every Tom, Dick and Harry would be demanding one whenever any little thing that cast doubt on their conviction came to light.


In fact, it would make sense to intentionally withhold any evidence that you didn't think was needed to win. That way, if you lost anyways, you could just produce the evidence and get another go at it.
posted by smackfu at 3:12 PM on October 18, 2006


At any trial, evidence both supporting and rebutting the defendant's innocence are presented. The jury reaches their decision in spite of the fact that there may well be some evidence that they are innocent, because on the basis of the weight of all of the evidence, they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If additional evidence alone was sufficient to grant a retrial, then every Tom, Dick and Harry would be demanding one whenever any little thing that cast doubt on their conviction came to light.


Peter McD s precisely correct. This is why the appellate courts will deny a new trial based only on claims of "more evidence." Unless, of course, the "more" evidence is enough to preclude a prosecution: absolute evidence of innocence. (See Wanda Skutnik. Call Northside 777.)

This is not purely a Florida quirk. But--in one old Florida lawyer's opinion, at least-- Florida's criminal justice system is merciless when it comes to keeping its convicts "inside."
posted by rdone at 3:24 PM on October 18, 2006


Maybe I should move to Canada, which I'm sure is utterly free of miscarriages of justice.

Guy. Paul. Morin.


David.Milgard

Donald.Marshall

Not only do these mistakes happen in Canada but there is also the problem of Infinite Jeopardy. The prosecution can try you over and over and over again until they get what they want. This may be true in the UK as well from what I have seen on the news but I am not certain.
posted by srboisvert at 3:24 PM on October 18, 2006


Maybe I should move to Canada, which I'm sure is utterly free of miscarriages of justice.

I realize that was sarcastic, but we've done a piss-poor job of justice on a number of occasions. David Milgaard is the most glaring example. Police leaving native captives out in the cold to freeze to death is another. There are a lot more.
posted by Kickstart70 at 3:24 PM on October 18, 2006


And what srboisvert said.
posted by Kickstart70 at 3:26 PM on October 18, 2006


PeterMcDermott writes '* failure to refer to a defence;'

Just to clarify here: I'm pretty sure that in that list, the 'failure to refer to a defence' is actually talking about the failure of the judge to refer to a defence in his summing up -- not the failure of defence counsel to mount a defence that might have been more effective than the one that they actually did mount.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:37 PM on October 18, 2006


What I've learned today:

innocent == ok to execute!
fat == ?!?
posted by mazola at 3:40 PM on October 18, 2006


Sorry. That was kind of a derail. The practices of other nations with regard to trials don't have much to do with this case.

As far as this case goes, however: I'd never thought about it as PeterMcDermott puts it, that allowing retrials on the basis of new evidence would clog the system. That seems correct. And I don't know about this case-- if I had been this fellow, I'd have asked for another lawyer during the trial at about the time that I saw that he wasn't going to establish my alibi. (You can do that, can't you?) But what about cases where there really is new evidence? Is there any way to make dispensation for that? Should there be? Or are those cases simply 'collateral damage?'
posted by koeselitz at 3:40 PM on October 18, 2006


This is a country where you have to prove that your lawyer was incompetent. Sleeping through a trial, apparently, is not evidence of incompetence.
posted by leftcoastbob at 3:50 PM on October 18, 2006


srboisvert: [In Canada] the prosecution can try you over and over and over again until they get what they want. This may be true in the UK as well.

No - in the UK prosecutions that contravene autrefois acquit (double jeopardy) can happen, but the acquittal has to be overturned by the Court of Appeal on the basis of compelling new evidence.
posted by athenian at 3:56 PM on October 18, 2006


But what about cases where there really is new evidence? Is there any way to make dispensation for that?

Absolutely. Given the history of miscarriages of justice, we definitely need some mechanism by which unsafe convictions can be overturned.

Here in the UK, we have the Criminal Cases Review Commission that serves that function, but it's fairly new.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:05 PM on October 18, 2006


And the Supreme Court agrees with him. After all, as Scalia so vibrantly put it:
"Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached." (Herrera v. Collins 506 US 390 1993)
I can't find that in the text of the decision, where did he say that? I'd love to have an actual reference to that.
posted by thedward at 4:21 PM on October 18, 2006


koeselitz writes "Maybe I should move to Canada, which I'm sure is utterly free of miscarriages of justice."

You indeed have a better chance here, because the state does not have the option of killing people.
posted by clevershark at 4:25 PM on October 18, 2006


I believe this is Scalia's opinion, but it's hard to tell in this whether the name of the justic occurs before or after their opinion (bolding mine):
We granted certiorari on the question whether it violates due process or constitutes cruel and unusual punishment for a State to execute a person who, having been convicted of murder after a full and fair trial, later alleges that newly discovered evidence shows him to be "actually innocent." I would have preferred to decide that question, particularly since, as the Court's discussion shows, it is perfectly clear what the answer is: there is no basis in text, tradition, or even in contemporary practice (if that were enough) for finding in the [506 U.S. 390, 428] Constitution a right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction. In saying that such a right exists, the dissenters apply nothing but their personal opinions to invalidate the rules of more than two thirds of the States, and a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure for which this Court itself is responsible. If the system that has been in place for 200 years (and remains widely approved) "shock[s]" the dissenters' consciences, post, at 430, perhaps they should doubt the calibration of their consciences, or, better still, the usefulness of "conscience shocking" as a legal test.

I nonetheless join the entirety of the Court's opinion, including the final portion, ante, at 417-419 - because there is no legal error in deciding a case by assuming, arguendo, that an asserted constitutional right exists, and because I can understand, or at least am accustomed to, the reluctance of the present Court to admit publicly that Our Perfect Constitution * lets stand any injustice, much less the execution of an innocent man who has received, though to no avail, all the process that our society has traditionally deemed adequate. With any luck, we shall avoid ever having to face this embarrassing question again, since it is improbable that evidence of innocence as convincing as today's opinion requires would fail to produce an executive pardon.

My concern is that, in making life easier for ourselves, we not appear to make it harder for the lower federal courts, imposing upon them the burden of regularly analyzing newly-discovered-evidence-of-innocence claims in capital cases (in which event, such federal claims, it can confidently be predicted, will become routine and even repetitive). A number of Courts of Appeals have hitherto held, largely in [506 U.S. 390, 429] reliance on our unelaborated statement in Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 317 (1963), that newly discovered evidence relevant only to a state prisoner's guilt or innocence is not a basis for federal habeas corpus relief. See, e.g., Boyd v. Puckett, 905 F.2d 895, 896-897 (CA5), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 988 (1990); Stockton v. Virginia, 852 F.2d 740, 749 (CA4 1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1071 (1989); Swindle v. Davis, 846 F.2d 706, 707 (CA11 1988) (per curiam); Byrd v. Armontrout, 880 F.2d 1, 8 (CA8 1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1019 (1990); Burks v. Egeler, 512 F.2d 221, 230 (CA6), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 937 (1975). I do not understand it to be the import of today's decision that those holdings are to be replaced with a strange regime that assumes permanently, though only "arguendo," that a constitutional right exists, and expends substantial judicial resources on that assumption. The Court's extensive and scholarly discussion of the question presented in the present case does nothing but support our statement in Townsend and strengthen the validity of the holdings based upon it.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:31 PM on October 18, 2006


Sorry. That was kind of a derail. The practices of other nations with regard to trials don't have much to do with this case.

More of a semi-derail - the UK has been known to exert pressure at the Foreign Office level to have, eg., death sentences commuted in countries with justice systems that are unjust in terms of UK legal practice, or in cases of obvious miscarriages of justice, so practices over here might be relevant - I can't remember the details of the case I'm thinking of, a Thai smack-smuggling thing, maybe?

As far as this case goes, as well as signing the letter to Jeb Bush, Peter Bottomley, a Tory MP, has asked in Parliament 'if the Government will make representations to the authorities at state and at federal level for steps leading to the ending of the period in prison of Krishna Maharaj in the USA.' The reply was that the FO has 'lodged three "amicus curiae" briefs on a point of international law in Mr. Maharaj’s case.' - I am so not a lawyer, but I assume that means that they're in some way unsatisfied with the way the case has been handled under US law as opposed to international or UK law?
posted by jack_mo at 4:53 PM on October 18, 2006


Good post, thirteenkiller. I was reading about this just today but didnt look any further.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:19 PM on October 18, 2006


The British Foreign Office "makes representations on behalf of any British national who is sentenced to death, anywhere in the world" whether the trial was just or not.
posted by TrashyRambo at 5:36 PM on October 18, 2006


(continuing the ostensible Scalia quote tangent)
Kickstart70, that is indeed the text of Scalia's opinion--see here, also--and it distinctly doesn't include the quote people have been attributing to him. Out of curiosity, does anyone know if there's evidence that he said it somewhere else? Or, alternately, that it's just another fake Internet quote?

Anyhow, despite the missing quote, I'm glad to have seen that opinion, because this real choice is particularly choice in the light of recent events:

If the system that has been in place for 200 years (and remains widely approved) "shock[s]" the dissenters' consciences, post, at 430, perhaps they should doubt the calibration of their consciences, or, better still, the usefulness of "conscience shocking" as a legal test.
posted by moss at 6:31 PM on October 18, 2006


If additional evidence alone was sufficient to grant a retrial, then every Tom, Dick and Harry would be demanding one whenever any little thing that cast doubt on their conviction came to light.

The situation is much the same here in the UK. Principle grounds include:


Yet, if new evidence is found that a person is guilty they can be retried. Cute.
posted by delmoi at 7:01 PM on October 18, 2006


Does anyone know the actual reason these alibi witnesses were not called?

It most states, legal malpractice is a valid grounds for appeal.
posted by delmoi at 7:10 PM on October 18, 2006


"Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached." (Herrera v. Collins 506 US 390 1993)

Holy fuck. Honest to god, I did physically gag the moment I confirmed I read and understood that sentence.

I am certain that they are saying conviction outweighs facts.

That you can be conclusively, patently innocent yet, if the court finds you guilty, it's okay to kill you anyway.

That is simply insane.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:37 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


hell yeah, the US has always been scary. its just that these days, more liberal and progressive middle class folks are noticing. but the funny thing about fear though, it totally goes along with (self)disempowerment and its not clear which causes which.

when you arent doing anything to change things, you just sit there and watch the government spiral out of control. thats most liberals or progressives right now, they are just barely taking notice, like wierd masochistic voyeurs might notice, like an academic might notice, busily documenting every scary new twist and turn on the blogs or in letters to the editor, through daily show skits or books and speaking tours... its just like a giant reality tv show or something, where we all get our little say and it doesnt mean shit. and when they finally vote us off the island, do you think that well be in any position to fight back? who knows.

by contrast, if you think about when people find themselves in real trouble, at the point where their options are finally exhausted and political organization is not an option, when they are pushed against a wall and have to fight back, thats when that wiener kind of fear the left is exhibiting right now disappears.

thats why, for example, the panthers in the 70's got themselves to a point where they would tote shotguns in defiance of the police, whereas these days, your average liberal, middle class antiwar protesters cant bring themselves to step into the street with a sign without "permission". is fear making the left weak or is it a symptom of the left's weakness?

so what scares me is not the realization that the rights we have are going up in smoke. what scares me is that noone in this society seems to remember that codified "rights" never meant shit, and the only strength they ever had and ever will have is the willingness of the people to throw down in defense of them.
posted by mano at 8:08 PM on October 18, 2006




Scalia is a real asshole. I read the decision where he said this in criminal law class, and the thought that occurred to me is that the government rules by the consent of the governed. If the government thinks its own procedures and common-law rules derived through nothing but generations of judicial decisions (turtles all the way down, if you will) are more important than the life of an innocent man, then they are sorely mistaken. There are two results of callous indifference like this: first, innocent people die and their blood is on the hands of the court itself; second, the people's respect for the judicial system is sapped, leaving them more likely to take justice into their own hands, ignore or subvert the court's rulings, or take out their frustrations on the court. I don't recall which imprudent politician said that people will start killing judges if decisions get too outrageous, but that person was essentially correct. People, put in a position where they are governed by arbitrary rules imposed without respect to justice, are right to rebel. That's the very basis of our country's existence, and every appointed bureaucrat and official would do well to remember it.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:34 PM on October 18, 2006


So can someone explain to me how this clemency thing works? Because after all the legal battles, how is it that Jeb Bush gets to decide this man's fate? How is the governor somehow deemed "smarter" than the Supreme Court?

I would really be interested in hearing Jeb's reasoning if he doesn't grant clemency. I just don't think that the spirit of the law is to punish innocent people.
posted by icanbreathe at 8:53 PM on October 18, 2006


Florida is America's wang.
Peninsula, penis, same difference.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:07 PM on October 18, 2006


Still better than Indonesia. Remember, the place that executes people for small drug crimes and tosses an Australian girl in prison for 20+ years after someone else plants drugs in her suitcase.

I'd rather be here, thanks.
posted by drstein at 9:40 PM on October 18, 2006


That's just swell, drstein. Really gosh-darn swell.

Here are your partners in crime. Take the time to actually read this list, and see if you can figure out what's missing:

Afghanistan
Antigua and Barbuda
Bahamas
Bahrain
Bangladesh
Barbados
Belarus
Belize
Botswana
Burundi
Cameroon
Chad
China (People's Republic)
Comoros
Congo (Democratic Republic)
Cuba
Dominica
Egypt
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea
Ethiopia
Gabon
Ghana
Guatemala
Guinea
Guyana
India
Indonesia
Iran
Iraq
Jamaica
Japan
Jordan
Kazakhstan
Korea, North
Korea, South
Kuwait Kyrgyzstan
Laos
Lebanon
Lesotho
Libya
Malawi
Malaysia
Mongolia
Nigeria
Oman
Pakistan
Palestinian Authority
Qatar
Rwanda
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
Singapore
Somalia
Sudan
Swaziland
Syria
Taiwan
Tajikistan
Tanzania
Thailand
Trinidad and Tobago
Uganda
United Arab Emirates
United States
Uzbekistan
Vietnam
Yemen
Zambia
Zimbabwe

When it comes to justice, the USA hangs out with Somalia, Iran, and China.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:58 AM on October 19, 2006


That is simply insane.

Yep. This is pretty-much the main reason I am against the death penalty. Because there's no course for redress after the fact.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:24 AM on October 19, 2006


The USA also hangs out with South Korea and Japan and India.
posted by smackfu at 6:17 AM on October 19, 2006


And Jamaica! Woo!
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:50 AM on October 19, 2006


five fresh fish: So, what is this list?
posted by koeselitz at 8:35 AM on October 19, 2006


That's the list of countries that have the death penalty. Every other nation has banned it.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on October 19, 2006


(Actually, iirc, that's not entirely true: every other nation has marked restrictions on its use or has outlawed it completely.)
posted by five fresh fish at 9:22 AM on October 19, 2006


When it comes to justice, the USA hangs out with Somalia, Iran, and China.

And don't forget St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and The Bahamas. But what about Poland?
posted by stirfry at 3:25 PM on October 19, 2006


Death is not the worst thing. Hell, I'm inclined to believe that death is better than life in prison in most countries.
posted by koeselitz at 4:32 PM on October 19, 2006


Besides, is the implication that the nations listed are barbarous? Are Americans supposed to be ashamed to be sharing a list with Barbados? This sounds suspiciously like an ad hominem argument.

Yes, I get it. Europe isn't on the list. Wow.

posted by koeselitz at 4:35 PM on October 19, 2006


I'm surprised Mexico isn't on that list.
posted by smackfu at 4:44 PM on October 19, 2006


Most countries are not on the list. The death penalty is something most countries, in developing their societies, have decided to abandon. The USA is remarkable in its persistence in retaining the death penalty in the face of other social advances.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:22 PM on October 19, 2006


We're special.
posted by smackfu at 7:58 PM on October 19, 2006


Oh. So it is an ad hominem argument.
posted by koeselitz at 5:29 PM on October 20, 2006


It is inadvisable for anyone to rely on the mercy of Jeb Bush for any reason.

Exactly. Any Bush, actually.

. (in advance, with my apologies)
posted by amberglow at 5:36 PM on October 20, 2006


You know, Jeb does not want to President and he can't run for govenor. I would think any person would see this story and attempt to do SOMETHING if they did have the power to do so. That is, if he's human.
posted by skepticallypleased at 2:31 PM on October 21, 2006


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