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Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Troy Davis Appeal
October 14, 2008 11:21 AM   Subscribe

The Supreme Court today issued a one line statement refusing to hear Troy Davis' appeal. Troy Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of a police officer in Savannah, GA, and sentenced to death solely on eyewitness testimony. No murder weapon or any physical evidence linked him to the crime. Since the conviction, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted or changed their stories, and one of the two who haven't changed their stories is the other suspect in the case. Things were looking good for Davis when the Supreme Court issued a stay two hours before his execution last month. Justice may really be dead in this country.
posted by x_3mta3 (60 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Atlanta's Creative Loafing cover story last week was on how genuinely screwed up the death penalty is in my fair state. Spoiler: its pretty screwed up.

At least I'm not from Texas.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:41 AM on October 14, 2008


Justice is alive and (mostly) well. What more can you hope for from a system devised by humans? The fact that it is an imperfect system makes me staunchly anti death-penalty, and I do easily cede there is room for improvement. I guess my point is I don't feel like the sky is falling, though I am sad to hear that this is how this case turned out.
posted by rosswald at 11:42 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


this sounds like a job for Errol Morris.
posted by shmegegge at 11:44 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


The sky is falling for Troy Davis. "Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee."
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on October 14, 2008 [36 favorites]


I read the first article, and didn't find the Supreme Court's one line statement. I will google, but first to find please post here.

Not on the Amnesty International site either.

And the Troy Davis site is so 1983. Web 0.1. And what's the point of the "Copyright -- Troy Anthony Davis 2004" notice? Not saying he can't or shouldn't, but seems like he has bigger worries than copyright.

So if this is his last appeal, how long before the next scheduled execution date?

Capital punishment is stupid. Even given that he did the crime accused I don't think this rises to the punishment. Shot a guy over a 6-pack? I'm surprised he didn't get 25-50 and out in 15.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:45 AM on October 14, 2008


We haven't had an execution in Minnesota since the horrifically botched hanging of William Williams in 1904. The rope was too long to hang the man, and so deputies physically held him in the air while others pulled on his legs, and he slowly and grotesquely strangled to death. We just didn't have the stomach for it after that.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:46 AM on October 14, 2008


My dad was a cop when I was a kid (which is ironic, considering my mom was a hard drug user) and his words and actions always told me that when a cop was killed, the anger they felt made the first possible suspect the suspect. They wanted someone to pay. Once they got into their heads that "this guy did it", they'd do whatever they needed to to get testimony and evidence that supported their case. I'm not saying that they knowingly sent innocent people up the river, but rather their hunger for set things right clouded their judgment. Considering what's at stake in these cases, that's tragic.

Personal involvement, or the feeling of it, is deleterious to justice.
posted by SaintCynr at 11:50 AM on October 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


The sky is falling for Troy Davis. "Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee."
posted by languagehat at 2:44 PM on October 14 [+] [!]


I didn't mean to sound crass. Of course for TD this is (literally) the end of the world. I just feel like people being wrongly convicted/executed is nothing new, and while they are stunning problems with our justice system (wrongful execution being a primary), I try to take the optimisticy long road view and look at how far we've come.
posted by rosswald at 11:50 AM on October 14, 2008


to set things right. sorry.
posted by SaintCynr at 11:51 AM on October 14, 2008


Justice may really be dead in this country.

It wasn't a bad post until you started in with the sermon.
posted by caddis at 11:51 AM on October 14, 2008 [8 favorites]


cjorgensen: The denial simply read: "The motion of The Innocence Project for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied."
posted by Inkoate at 11:58 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I just feel like people being wrongly convicted/executed is nothing new,

there's truth to this, but the collection of circumstances here is pretty extraordinary. for one thing, the only evidence of his guilt whatsoever was the testimony of 9 people, 7 of whom have since recanted said testimony, one of whom is the other suspect in the case and the last of whom only ever identified Troy Davis as the murderer in a courtroom 2 years after the fact. The other suspect (again, whose testimony is largely responsible for his conviction in the first place) is the same apparent age, height and build as Davis and the shooting took place at night in a poorly lit parking lot.

Lastly, it's not all that common for supreme court justices to deny an appeal of such gravity without so much as a word to explain it.
posted by shmegegge at 12:06 PM on October 14, 2008


shemgegge, I agree with everything you just said, with the exception of that last line. The Justices get some phenomenal number of appeals to the Court every term, and deny the vast majority of them, often with no comment whatsoever. I have no idea what compels them to sometimes issue an actual sentence of denial rather than simply putting the appeal on the denial list, but offering no further explanation is the norm, rather than the exception. In addition, while we may all think that this particular appeal contains gravity, as you aptly put it, every single person who appeals his or her case to the Supreme Court no doubt feels the same about their particular case, and the Justices would be simply bogged if they tried to offer 9 (probably competing) rationales for each denial of certiorari that they handed out.
posted by Inkoate at 12:15 PM on October 14, 2008


We do not knpw the facts of this case. None of us, based on these summaries can even begin to say that this man is innocent or guilty of the crime in question.

What we can say however, is that while human doubt exists, no death penalty should exist. We are imperfect beings and our justice system should reflect that imperfection.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:16 PM on October 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


I have no idea what compels them to sometimes issue an actual sentence of denial rather than simply putting the appeal on the denial list, but offering no further explanation is the norm, rather than the exception.

Note: There is always an order issuing a denial of a Petition for Cert. However, there is very rarely an opinion attached to that order. That is standard operating procedure.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:18 PM on October 14, 2008


Even given that he did the crime accused I don't think this rises to the punishment. Shot a guy over a 6-pack? I'm surprised he didn't get 25-50 and out in 15.

Questions of the morality of the death penalty and this man's innocenc and guilt aside...what?? Ending somebody's life over some beer is a callous and horrendous act, i think we can all agree.
posted by jonmc at 12:28 PM on October 14, 2008


Based on my skimming of both sides involved, I lean toward guilty for Davis. While I am not against the death penalty, he should not receive that sentence in this case.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:29 PM on October 14, 2008


Ohio executes man who claimed he was was too obese for lethal injection.

The death penalty is beneath the dignity of modern civilization, it panders to our basest instincts, it corrupts all of us.

This is a good time to listen to some Steve Earle
posted by Rumple at 12:34 PM on October 14, 2008


“What more can you hope for from a system devised by humans?”

I, for one, welcome our human...oh.

Yet another reason I too oppose the death penalty (although I will cede that it is, y’know, a penalty)

Is the Supreme Court commonly about hearing ‘special’ cases? I mean where there’s some odd nuance of law. I know they tend to pick only heavy cases. But is it necessarily a court of last appeal? (In that they accept those kinds of cases - I know it’s the terminal end of appeals)

I mean, I wouldn’t cite the Supreme Court turning it down as a travesty of justice, but rather the successive appeals process which led to the defense having no recourse but the Supreme Court as sort of the problem there.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:36 PM on October 14, 2008


The problem w/ Davis's conviction and his execution is that MANY of the witnesses have recanted their testimony, and he was convicted mostly on the strength of these people's testimony. If they are now saying that they were coerced or that their testimony was not true, then the conviction should not stand, certainly not in a case where his life is at stake.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The motion of The Innocence Project for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied

Can I translate that to "sure, leave your story with the secretary, but we're not instructing lower court to do their job all over right now"?
posted by DreamerFi at 12:43 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sad end to a very sad story.
posted by zpousman at 12:50 PM on October 14, 2008


I suppose this is where the Court's summary order will appear when it's ready to. Just in case seeing it from them might strike anyone more.
posted by paperpete at 1:01 PM on October 14, 2008


Ending somebody's life over some beer is a callous and horrendous act, i think we can all agree.

I mean, was it a microbrew or something?

inappropriate. I'm sorry.
posted by inigo2 at 1:14 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


And the Troy Davis site is so 1983. Web 0.1. And what's the point of the "Copyright -- Troy Anthony Davis 2004" notice? Not saying he can't or shouldn't, but seems like he has bigger worries than copyright.

You make some good points but it is hard to take you seriously with your rounded corners and missing vowels.
posted by srboisvert at 1:26 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


One thing that always makes me think in cases like this is that if he had not gotten the death penalty, he would be rotting away in prison with no chance of getting out and no one paying attention to his story. I would hope that when and if this country abolishes the death penality, the innocence project will expand to include people in prison for life.
posted by cell divide at 1:27 PM on October 14, 2008


The sky is falling for Troy Davis. "Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee."
posted by languagehat at 7:44 PM on October 14


Interestingly, that was quoted this morning on NPR:
Morning Edition , October 14, 2008 · "They're fierce political opponents, but it turns out that the presidential candidates do agree on a literary matter: Each man picks Ernest Hemingway's 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls as a favorite."
posted by plexi at 1:47 PM on October 14, 2008


Oh, this is bad news indeed.
posted by lunit at 1:54 PM on October 14, 2008


This one sounds pretty bad. No gun, no gunpowder residue on the shooter, no physical evidence at all, plus another suspect known to carry a gun, and eyewitnesses with parole issues saying they felt pressured by police.
It may be that the court could find no legal reason to stay the execution further, but surely it seems like there is a moral/ethical reason to do something to spare this man.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:56 PM on October 14, 2008


Justice Scalia famously said that one doesn't have the right to justice. And he was also talking about a death penalty case, where he was perfectly happy to send a man who was almost certainly innocent to his death. In the Scalia mind, the right to a fair trial only means a trial that obeys the rules of procedure and correctly interprets the law. If the outcome is wrong, even if everyone knows the outcome was wrong, the American judicial system's response is "we don't care." Factual issues are simply not re-opened on appeal.

Our judicial system sucks. The adversarial common law system is a more-or-less OK way to deal with controversies when both sides are equally equipped for battle and the subject matter is a land ownership dispute. But in any other case, it's usually awful. The truth is simply not a major concern.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:57 PM on October 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


plexi:
That was my first thought on reading that comment too.
And the first chapter of the book, for anyone who's never read it, is here.
posted by jckll at 1:59 PM on October 14, 2008


Is it really the SCOTUS's job to overturn convictions based on witnesses recanting? Shouldn't that be decided at the state Supreme Court level?

Speaking of which, the Georgia Supreme Court's decision denying his appel is interesting reading.
posted by smackfu at 2:12 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


when a cop was killed, the anger they felt made the first possible suspect the suspect. They wanted someone to pay. Once they got into their heads that "this guy did it", they'd do whatever they needed to to get testimony and evidence that supported their case

it doesn't matter who gets killed, cop or civilian. and it doesn't even matter one's personal opinion of cops -- saints, or thugs, or all the possible shades in between -- but the real and sad fact is that policemen are not really there to discover the Truth, they're there to provide the DA with a prosecutable case that's reasonably solid. is that the truth? well, if you're lucky, yes. but that's like the cherry on top. this is not to say that they make mistakes on purpose, but that they are looking for a pretty solid case somewhere, not necessarily for the truth.

re: this particular case, I cannot think of only one thing worse than spending years in jail for a crime you didn't commit -- it's getting killed for it.

the best argument to abolish the death penalty is, look at the list of the countries where it's legal, and look at the list of those where it's illegal. the question is, whose company would you rather keep, as a civilized country? it's, seriously, a slam dunk.

also, it seriously baffles me how some Christians can be pro death penalty given the fact that they worship as their God a powerless man who got wrongly executed.
posted by matteo at 2:12 PM on October 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


the best argument to abolish the death penalty is, look at the list of the countries where it's legal, and look at the list of those where it's illegal.

Yeah, Japan sucks.
posted by smackfu at 2:19 PM on October 14, 2008


Is it really the SCOTUS's job to overturn convictions based on witnesses recanting? Shouldn't that be decided at the state Supreme Court level?

I think, simply, that our State Supreme Court screwed up. And I think it IS the SCOTUS's job to tell the Ga Supremes to step their game up, and not let a guy that was convicted on evidence that is now seriously, seriously in question, die for a crime he more than likely (beyond of a shadow of a doubt) did not commit.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:26 PM on October 14, 2008


My brother in law is a former police officer, and he tells me that to a certain extent the police act much like a very large and well organized gang. Slights will be aggressively and violently avenged. Anything more serious than a slight will result in an almost insane desire for *someone* to suffer, if its the guilty party that's regarded more as a bonus than the goal.

It ties in with the complete stonewalling that meets any attempt to probe into abuses by a police officer. There is a very large "us against the world" viewpoint in the police community. Given the conditions police operate under this is understandable if highly undesirable, that is it explains what has happened without excusing it.

I think that, for this reason, any case involving alleged assault, murder, etc against police must be viewed with vastly greater than normal oversight, and the full understanding that there is a mentality on the part of the police that seeks simply to hurt someone, anyone, as payback regardless of whether the person they want to hurt is really guilty or not.

I should mention that I was, at one point, quite fervently in favor of the death penalty. It was cases exactly like this that demonstrated the stupidity of that position to me. We simply cannot be certain that the people we are executing are guilty. Worse the entire justice system seems geared to conceal any evidence that it has made fatal mistakes.

smackfu Actually, Japan's system of criminal justice does massively suck. It is most glaringly illustrated in the way they handle the death penalty [1].

But it sucks in other areas too. Essentially it boils down to: don't get arrested in Japan, your life will suck massively and you'll think you've been sucked into some kafkaesque or orwellian alternate universe. From what I understand the civil courts are just about as bad, but they can only take your money not subject you to the living hell that is the Japanese prison system.

[1] Briefly: once sentenced to death the convict is essentially kept in solitary confinement and is never updated on his legal status. Appeals drift through courts, but the convict is not a participant in this process nor is he ever told what is going on. One day, quite randomly from the standpoint of the convict, he will either be released or dragged off to be executed. Every single time his cell door opens he has no idea whether it is for his execution, his liberation, or simply to give him some time in the exercise yard. He is deliberately kept completely ignorant of the most important question he has, and the constant fear that the next time the cell door opens they may be killed drives many of those who don't commit suicide (which, in many cases, they are "accidentally" provided with he means to do) insane in short order. This would be illegal if they were "prisoners", but due to a Bushian twist they aren't, they're "detainees", and the facilities they are kept in are not "prisons" and therefore not subject to normal controls on prisons, which aren't that great in Japan anyway.
posted by sotonohito at 2:48 PM on October 14, 2008 [10 favorites]


OMG PINTER WAS RIGHT WE'RE WORSE THAN THE NAZIS
posted by alexwoods at 4:00 PM on October 14, 2008


justice ?
have you read the news ?
posted by Substrata at 4:15 PM on October 14, 2008


Good God, sotonohito, that's absolutely horrifying. Is there any serious movement to change the system?
posted by languagehat at 4:25 PM on October 14, 2008


All this discussion of bells tolling and no mention of John Donne? Weird.
posted by lumensimus at 4:37 PM on October 14, 2008


The key problem with the justice system is that, on a day-to-day basis, it operates mostly on what a DA friend of mine called the "greater scumbag principle."

You can pretty reliably predict the outcome of a case based on whether the defendant, on casual examination, appears to be a massive scumbag. Not just juries but everyone from police to public defenders to prison guards treat people in the system based, basically, on whether or not they appear to be a scumbag. 'Scumbagginess' is a vague descriptor and can be racially or socioeconomically loaded.

Given two possible suspects in an otherwise-equal situation, the police tend to go after, and DAs tend to prosecute, and juries tend to convict, the guy who appears to be the greater scumbag.

This obviously doesn't mesh well with a system of 'blind justice' that's supposed to hinge on actual factual guilt or innocence. But it's insidious because pretty much everyone likes the greater scumbag principle when they're deciding who the scumbag is.

Just as casual evidence, witness how many offhand remarks you run across in discussion threads about people who 'ought to be in prison' even when it's not clear they've actually broken a law. (Cf. any of the late Wall Street threads.) That's the greater scumbag principle in action; when they're in the driver's seat, people care less about whether somebody's actually broken a law, than whether they deserve, in some vague and karmic fashion, to be in jail.

And when you cross the line from "are they actually guilty" to "do they deserve to be in jail" you no longer have a criminal justice system, at least in the sense that most of us are taught to think of it.

I'm not really sure that eliminating the death penalty is even a solution, because the problem seems more deep-rooted than that. If there were no death penalty, Troy Davis would almost certainly be rotting in prison somewhere (probably dead in prison -- I wouldn't expect a lack of an official death penalty to stop those convicted of cop killing from dying 'accidentally'), and none of us would be talking about this.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:41 PM on October 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


The Supreme Court, which has over the last eight years been pushed to the right by Bush's appointees.

Go ahead and tell me again that it doesn't make a difference who gets elected.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:03 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Supreme Court is pretty much only concerned with cases that make them look important. This case is simply about the state wrongfully executing an innocent man. So they don't give a shit. See you in hell, Roberts.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:17 PM on October 14, 2008


Ohio executes man who claimed he was was too obese for lethal injection.

Having read about Troy Davis' situation, it's hard not to be sympathetic, if not angry, at his impending execution. An apparently innocent man being put to death, particularly one who is black in a racist system, delegitimizes the system and makes the notion of justice harder for all to grasp.

But as for Ohio's Richard Cooey, it seems difficult to imagine granting him clemency:

Cooey and a then-17-year-old accomplice were convicted of the brutal murders of Wendy Offredo and Dawn McCreery, students at the University of Akron. The men had been tossing concrete slabs onto Interstate 77, and one of them struck Offredo's car.

Pretending to "rescue" the women, Cooey and Clinton Dickens took the victims to a remote field, according to prosecutors. There the students were subjected to a three-and-a-half-hour period of rape, torture, stabbings and fatal bludgeonings. Cooey carved an "X" into the stomachs of both women, prosecutors said.

Each man blamed the other for delivering the fatal blows, but both were convicted of murder. Dickens received a life sentence because of his age.


I have to admit that after reading about the crimes Cooey committed, I don't regret much seeing him put to death. I know that this admission makes me a little less human, but I just can't see letting something horrendous like that just slide.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:20 PM on October 14, 2008


I am absolutely certain that people are capable of acts for which they deserve to die.

I am absolutely certain that the criminal justice system is not capable of isolating these exact individuals with 100% accuracy.

Therefor I am absolutely opposed to the death penalty, in practice.

In a democracy, the people are the government. So let us all feel sorry for Troy Davis, who may or may not be guilty of the crime he was convicted of, but who certainly ought not be killed in this manner. And then, let us all feel sorry for ourselves, for killing him.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:26 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


languagehat Bear in mind that my commentary on this subject is that of an educated layman, any legitimate claim I have to expertise in Japan ends around 1930 or thereabouts.

That said, I'm not aware of any any serious effort to make changes to any core aspect of Japan. Its quite a conservative place, in the resistant to change meaning. The youth of Japan are mostly politically uninvolved and this is widely considered to be a good thing; the perception is that they lack the necessary life experience to make informed decisions on matters of import.

Liberally minded Japanese tend to focus mostly on geopolitics, internal Japanese affairs don't seem to be much noticed. Add to that the idea of wa (harmony, getting along, not rocking the boat) as a sort of national virtue and there isn't a whole lot of impetus to push for internal changes. Hell, the same political party has run Japan since 1948, change is not popular.

As an example of the difficulty in getting the Japanese to focus on internal problems, look at the circumstances surrounding the Minamata chemical plant [1]. The relationship between the pollution (mostly mercury) and the high instance of birth defects and acquired health problems was identified prior to WWII, went essentially unaddressed until the mid 1960's, and wasn't *really* addressed until the mid 1970's.

The people suffering from what became known as Minamata disease were often ostracized, the company mostly was not. The legal battles over the pollution continue to this day, and often those pursuing the lawsuits are viewed not as victims justly seeking restitution, but as disruptive, as not living within the wa [2].

The old adage "the nail that sticks up gets pounded down" is quintessentially Japanese. Criminals stick up, and to an extent their pounding down is viewed as a virtuous thing, a way to preserve the wa. Who wants to disrupt the wa, and stick up themselves, for a bunch of criminals? Polling shows that around 70% of the Japanese population supports the death penalty.

[1] Eugene Smith took an iconic photograph of the devistating effects of the pollution from the Minamata plant which helped spread awareness both in and out of Japan, you may have seen it before.

[2] This, I should mention is not limited to people suffering disease. The person pursuing a lawsuit is largely viewed as disruptive, bad, largely regardless whether or not they have just cause for a suit.
posted by sotonohito at 6:33 PM on October 14, 2008


Yeah, Japan sucks.

as pointed out above, yes, pretty much. unfortunate jokes -- and self-defeating snarks -- aside, let's spell it out for the more dense:

the death penalty is illegal in -- among many other countries -- the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

it's very much in vogue in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan. Actually, these are the countries that have executed the most people in 2007. You know who's in fifth place? The USA. Maybe by the end of the year you can do better than Pakistan, and challenge the Saudis for the Bronze Medal, with some luck.

God knows if it were up to Texas, the US would rate much higher.
posted by matteo at 6:50 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Personally, and I would posit that the majority of people agree with me, I can't see the point of the death penalty.

Not only is it morally wrong, but it's not a deterrant.

A pity the US, so progressive in so many ways (at least prior to the Bush years), is so.... I don't know... mediaeval(?) in this manner.
posted by Mephisto at 8:22 PM on October 14, 2008


matteo: while I agree with you that there is a severe, and I would say willful, cognitive dissonance in worshiping a deity who was wrongfully executed while calling for more executions and glossing over the fact that many of them are wrongful, I have to correct you on the idea that Christ was supposed to have been "powerless" in this. Accepting the tenets of Christianity, he knew what was going to happen to him, and why it needed to happen. He knowingly had dinner with his betrayer the night before, after all. I'm not a Christian, but according to the story, he accepted his fate head-on, which is a far cry from being "powerless."

As for Troy Davis, count me amongst those who think that if SCOTUS is going to deny cert in a death penalty case, particularly one with a history such as this (4-3 division in the lower court!) then at the very least they damn sure owe the condemned an explanation. It may be that they have some very good reasons to believe that the finding of fact and everything surrounding it at the trial level was done correctly, but when a man's life is in their hands, they should give their reasoning.

I very much do hope to see the court swing back to the left in my time, and for that court to finally do away with the death penalty altogether on 8th and 14th amendment grounds. It may be as simple as interpreting due process in such a way as to guarantee that any mistake made by the judicial process has an available remedy, and as such any fatal punishment would be unconstitutional, as no remedy could be applied. (Life imprisonment would still be acceptable under this interpretation, as the prisoner's eventual death would not be by judicial or state action, and remedies would be available up to that point.) As our current legal age is that of process theory, I have a hunch this argument would be more likely to fly than convincing those who love the death penalty that it is "cruel and unusual" (or cruel OR unusual, depending on one's interpretation of the 8th amendment.)

I don't know how to end this, so I'll just say, for Troy Davis, and all of the others condemned now or in times past:

.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:24 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The guy might well be innocent of murder but do you really want to undermine the courts' ability to achieve convictions of 1000 future murderers on the basis of eyewitness testimony, just for the benefit of a guy who hangs around with murderers and beats up homeless people for beer?
posted by zaebiz at 9:04 PM on October 14, 2008


The guy might well be innocent of murder but do you really want to undermine the courts' ability to achieve convictions of 1000 future murderers on the basis of eyewitness testimony, just for the benefit of a guy who hangs around with murderers and beats up homeless people for beer?

Yes?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:43 PM on October 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


I also note that at the original time of questioning, the guy says he knew who the real killer was but didn't tell the police because he didn't want to be a 'snitch'. His 'friend' has subsequently consistently testified that he in fact was the killer.

Lesson for the unwary : next time you're beating up homeless people with your friends and one of them kills a cop and laughs as he finishes him off, snitch.
posted by zaebiz at 9:44 PM on October 14, 2008


The Pope has asked for clemency for Davis. What I'd like to see is the Pope fly into Hartsfield Airport and explain that he's going to walk from there to the Governor's mansion to personally petition for clemency for Davis.

Let the Vicar of Christ walk slowly as if on his own journey down the Via Dolorosa that Christ walked to His execution, and call on all Catholics and Christians to join his pilgrimage, and let the pressure mount on Sonny Perdue to do the right thing.

Let the Pope do it side by side with Archbishop Tutu, and then let Sonny Perdue tell both of those old and revered men, on international TV, that Sonny's all for killing a likely innocent man, just like Pilate executed Jesus.
posted by orthogonality at 9:49 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


The guy might well be innocent of murder but do you really want to undermine the courts' ability to achieve convictions of 1000 future murderers on the basis of eyewitness testimony, just for the benefit of a guy who hangs around with murderers and beats up homeless people for beer?

Luckily one of the few general - if unspoken - requirements for Supreme Court Justices is that they have a somewhat more nuanced view of the law than this.

At the circuit court level and higher, judicial opinions tend to be about either finding rationale to take something on a case-by-case basis while not ricking the boat, or else developing new tests for legal review. There are already many tests set forth on how to best judge the validity of eyewitness testimony, because no court anywhere is going to throw out that sort of testimony categorically, even though it can sometimes be faulty. Instead they will devise ways in which to hopefully best sort out reliable testimony from unreliable testimony.

The two most basic things that law school have taught me are (1) that SCOTUS almost never actually overturns a previous ruling, but rather distinguishes things until the previous ruling is entirely irrelevant, and (2) that the courts are generally very good at finding ways for the common sense correct outcomes to occur. The law is not cut-and-dry, at any level (in fact, the mosre you move up the hierarchy, the fuzzier it becomes) and there is a very real sense in which the law is simply whatever a good appellate attorney can convince people it is.

These attorneys don't manage this by simply arguing that the death penalty is wrong, or that eyewitness testimony might not be reliable. A reasonably bright high-schooler could do that. No, the appellate lawyer must no what, for instance, the Brathwait test for overly suggestive suspect identification entails, and how lenient the standard is within subsequent case law. (In this instance, two-year-old eyewitness testimony really should have been thrown out.) The best appellate lawyers introduce novel legal theory in order to change bad or outdated standards, because the Justices usually will hold themselves to only weigh judgment upon the proposals set forth for them by counsel. A great many opinions will actually suggest arguments which might be successful in similar future cases, but which were unfortunately not argued by the attorneys in court.

This is very imperfect, to be sure, but as you intimated, Justices have to look not only at the life before them, but those thousands which come after. 1L's can find creative and ingenious ways in which to deal with both. Do you think that nine of the most revered judicial minds in the U.S. are incapable of this?

(Note: all of this makes it all the more sickening that they chose not to exercise this power here.)
posted by Navelgazer at 10:13 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Luckily one of the few general - if unspoken - requirements for Supreme Court Justices is that they have a somewhat more nuanced view of the law than this.

Dude, Scalia.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:25 PM on October 14, 2008


O Mefites! Ye art so ignorant in the ways of federal habeas review!

Whither hath justice gone, ye ask? Ye quibbeleth with federal habeas now, but in days of yore t'was far worse in the main!

Quoth the fabled Rehnquist, Chief Justice, for the Court in Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993), himself quoting minor liberal diety Chief Justice Warren:

"Claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence have never been held to state a ground for federal habeas relief absent an independent constitutional violation occurring in the underlying state criminal proceeding. Chief Justice Warren made this clear in Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 317 (1963) (emphasis added):

"'Where newly discovered evidence is alleged in a habeas application, evidence which could not reasonably have been presented to the state trier of facts, the federal court must grant an evidentiary hearing. Of course, such evidence must bear upon the constitutionality of the applicant's detention; the existence merely of newly discovered evidence relevant to the guilt of a state prisoner is not a ground for relief on federal habeas corpus.'

"This rule is grounded in the principle that federal habeas courts sit to ensure that individuals are not imprisoned in violation of the Constitution--not to correct errors of fact. See, e. g., Moore v. Dempsey, 261 U.S. 86, 87-88 (1923) (Holmes, J.) ("[W]hat we have to deal with [on habeas review] is not the petitioners' innocence or guilt but solely the question whether their constitutional rights have been preserved"); Hyde v. Shine, 199 U.S. 62, 84 (1905) ("[I]t is well settled that upon habeas corpus the court will not weigh the evidence") (emphasis in original); Ex parte Terry, 128 U.S. 289, 305 (1888) ("As the writ of habeas corpus does not perform the office of a writ of error or an appeal, [the facts establishing guilt] cannot be re examined or reviewed in this collateral proceeding") (emphasis in original)."

Seized I am of no opinion about Troy Davis. But, verily, our judges are no monsters! In the right case, a cry of actual innocence can bestow a trial anew!

After thou readst Herrera v. Collins, thou must read Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298 (1995). Anon thou willst have an understanding of the role of actual innocence claims in federal habeas cases. Then thou cannst read the 11th Circuit's opinion in Troy Davis's case to understand why he lost unanimously there and why our Supremes likely deigned not to hear his cause.

Aye, 'tis too much to read, I know. But if ye prefer to rant with incomplete knowledge, at least have cause to know how ignorant ye may be.
posted by saslett at 10:39 PM on October 14, 2008


That's a pretty self-defeating comment there.
posted by smackfu at 8:27 AM on October 15, 2008


The guy might well be innocent of murder but do you really want to undermine the courts' ability to achieve convictions of 1000 future murderers on the basis of eyewitness testimony, just for the benefit of a guy who hangs around with murderers and beats up homeless people for beer?

So what you're saying is that we should kill an innocent person so that we don't endanger our ability to kill people, none of whom, I'm sure, will be innocent themselves. Filth.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:17 AM on October 15, 2008


smackfu & saslett: I don't believe that Davis was asking the US supreme court to overturn a conviction based on new evidence (witnesses recanting, etc). Rather, he was asking the supreme court to rule on whether the lower appeals court acted constitutionally when it denied his motion for a new trial without giving him a hearing.
posted by syzygy at 4:30 AM on October 16, 2008


Pope Guilty: "So what you're saying is that we should kill an innocent person so that we don't endanger our ability to kill people, none of whom, I'm sure, will be innocent themselves. Filth."

So you want to stop state-sanctioned killing. Ok. Let's say the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional some time in future. You still would have undermined the standard by which real murderers get convicted if you let this guy go free. Are you prepared to let thousands of future murderers get away with murder in your fight against the death penalty?
posted by zaebiz at 7:17 PM on October 20, 2008


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