SUPREME COURT: Arguments Set in Three Death Penalty Cases in the Coming Term

The U.S. Supreme Court has set oral-argument dates in three death penalty-related cases for the upcoming 2010-2011 term. The Court begins its new term on Monday, October 4. On October 6, the Court will hear Connick v. Thompson. This case challenges an award of $14 million to John Thompson, who had been sentenced to death in New Orleans but was later acquitted of all charges. Lower courts had found that the district attorney’s office failed to train its lawyers about so-called Brady violations, which led to Thompson’s wrongful conviction and death sentence in 1985. The current Orleans Parish District Attorney appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, asserting that upholding the award “exposes district attorney’s offices to vicarious liability for a wide range of prosecutorial misconduct.” On October 13, the Court will hear Skinner v. Switzer to determine whether a Texas death row inmate’s (Hank Skinner) request for DNA testing can be considered as a civil rights claim rather than as part of his death penalty appeal. Lower federal courts have been split on this issue. Skinner has always maintained his innocence, but death penalty appeals are tightly restricted in raising new evidence. Finally, on November 9, the high court will hear Cullen v. Pinholster, reviewing a Ninth Circuit decision overturning Pinholster’s death sentence because of ineffectiveness of counsel. The appeals court said his lawyer should have presented evidence of Pinholster’s mental illness that might have persuaded the jury to opt for a lesser sentence. The Court may choose new death penalty cases for review in the coming weeks.

(DPIC, Sept. 9, 2010). To read more about these cases, visit DPIC’s U.S. Supreme Court 2010-2011.