Buchanan v. Angelone, 66 U.S.L.W. 4075, The Eighth Amendment does not require that a capital jury be instructed on the concept of mitigating evidence generally, or on particular statutory mitigating factors.

Calderon v. Ashmus, 66 U.S.L.W. 4382, Death row inmates can challenge the applicability of AEDPA only as part of their habeas petition, not as a separate challenge.

Calderon v. Thompson, In a 5-4 decision issued April 29th, the Supreme Court overturned a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and denied relief to Thomas Thompson, a death row inmate in California. The decision, Calderon v. Thompson, was based not on the merits of new evidence that indicated he should not have been sentenced to death, but rather on the State’s interest in finality and judicial economy. Thompson was executed in California on July 14, 1998.

Campbell v. Louisiana, 66 U.S. L.W. 4258, White defendants can challenge the composition of the indicting grand jury on the basis of discrimination against blacks in the selection of jury members.

Hopkins v. Reeves, 66 U.S.L.W. 4449, The Court limited the scope of Beck v. Alabama, that required jurors in capital cases to consider convicting defendants of lesser offenses. The Court held that Beck does not apply in states where felony murder does not include any lesser offenses.

Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal. In a May 18th opinion, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a death row inmate to federal review of his mental competency. Arizona inmate Ramon Martinez-Villareal had filed a federal habeas petition and among other claims, he raised the issue of competency to be executed. The claim was dismissed as premature since Martinez-Villareal did not yet have an execution date. Once an execution date was set, Martinez-Villareal again sought to raise the issue of mental competency in federal court. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the petition was a second petition and thus barred by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The Court found the petition to be an extension of the first rather than a second petition.

Ohio Adult Parole Authority et al v. Woodward, 96-1769, the Supreme Court held that Ohio’s clemency guidelines were constitutional. The Court found that the Due Process Clause could apply to the clemency process in flagrant circumstances, but that Ohio’s clemency process did not violate the due process clause.

Trest v. Cain, 66 U.S.L.W. 4023, If a state inmate’s habeas petition is flawed and state prosecutors fail to point out the flaw, federal appeals courts are not required to dismiss the petition on procedural default grounds.

Paraguay et al. v. Gilmore. In a 7-2 opinion, the Supreme Court denied Paraguay’s petition for certiorari. Paraguay asserted a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations when Paraguayan national Angel Francisco Breard was arrested and not informed of his right to contact the Paraguayan consulate. Angel Breard was executed in Virginia on April 14, 1998.

Four Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote on October 20, 1997 that they were “troubled” by Texas’s death penalty law. In Arthur Brown, Jr. v. Texas, No. 96-9187, Justice Stevens wrote, with three other Justices, that Texas law currently forbids the judge in a death penalty case from explaining to the jury the meaning of a life sentence. Currently, if a person does not receive the death penalty, he would serve a life sentence in which he would not be eligible for parole for 40 years. This situation created an “obvious tension” between Texas’s rule and earlier holdings of the Supreme Court which require a jury to be told when a person faces life without parole if not sentenced to death. Justice Stevens also cited recent opinion polls which show public support for alternatives to the death penalty. (See Public Opinion for poll results.)