Supreme Court Restores Death Sentence for Escapee

On December 8, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a lower federal court that had given relief to Joseph Kindler, a Pennsylvania death row inmate. Kindler had been convicted of murder in 1982, but then escaped to Canada from the Philadelphia Detention Center in 1984. Prior to his escape, his attorneys had filed post-verdict motions challenging his conviction and sentence. Kindler was subsequently caught and, upon his return to the U.S., he tried to reinstate his claims. The state supreme court held that Kindler forfeited his appeal when he escaped. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that Kindler’s issues could be reviewed in federal court because the state forfeiture rule was inadequate to support the judgment barring the appeal, given the discretion the state courts had in applying it. The Third Circuit also upheld the federal District Court that had found the jury instructions in Kindler’s trial to be unconstitutional under Mills v. Maryland (1988). The U.S. Supreme Court held that discretion in a state rule does not render it inadequate to bar further review, and thus Kindler’s escape forfeited his challenge to the jury instructions in both state and federal courts.

(See Beard v. Kindler, No. 08-992 (U.S. Dec. 8, 2009); see also K. Caparella, “Supreme Court rules against Philly killer, who might now face death sentence,” Philadelphia Daily News, December 9, 2009). See also U.S. Supreme Court. If Kindler faced extradition from Canada today, he would not be returned to the U.S. unless the state agreed not to seek the death penalty. See International.