Supreme Court Stays Execution and Says Evidence of Innocence Should Be Given Evidentiary Hearing

imagesimage361In a major ruling, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered an evidentiary hearing on innocence claims of Troy Davis, who is on death row in Georgia for the 1989 murder of police officer Mark MacPhail. Not only did the Supreme Court stop the execution, but it created new law on the right of the defendant to present such evidence — a holding that drew the outrage of the conservative wing of the Court. While only a paragraph long, the unsigned opinion represents the first such order in decades for a new hearing to “receive testimony and make findings of fact”. Justice Scalia called it a “fool’s errand.”

Seven of the witnesses against Mr. Davis have recanted and others have implicated the man who first identified Davis as the gunman.

Justice John Paul Stevens insisted that “[t]he substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing.”
Justice Scalia said that, after numerous appeals (with the new evidence reviewed in the form of affidavits), the remand was a “sure loser” and a “fool’s errand.” More importantly, Scalia noted “[t]his court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

Yet, in 1993, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote in Herrera v. Collins, that (while not present in that case) “we may assume, for the sake of argument in deciding this case, that in a capital case a truly persuasive demonstration of ‘actual innocence’ made after trial would render the execution of a defendant unconstitutional and warrant federal habeas relief.”

Both websites for McPhail and Davis have weighed in on the decision.

I discuss the case on CNN yesterday, here.

For the full story, click here.

25 thoughts on “Supreme Court Stays Execution and Says Evidence of Innocence Should Be Given Evidentiary Hearing”

  1. Hans,

    Thanks for that story. I try to learn something new every day, and today’s now covered.

  2. John Puma, I’m not sure if this will answer your question, because I’m not sure that I understand the question. But basically, when a case is tried on the merits, the judgment or verdict is presumed to be correct. Therefore, the burden is on the party appealing the lower court decision to establish that errors occurred which require reversal. There are errors that occur in virtually all trials, but most of them do not affect the outcome. Perjury is far more prevalent than many people realize. A determination of the truthfulness of witnesses is made by the jury (or by the judge if it is a non-jury trial). If witnesses recant or disavow their sworn testimony following a trial, it is an admission of perjury. Depending upon the nature of the testimony and the manner in which it was procured, perjured testimony can be grounds for a new trial, or for dismissal of the case entirely. It can also provide a basis for the imposition of fines or other penalties against a party. It is a fraud on the court and subverts the judicial process.

  3. Bob, Esq., His Lordship need not reconcile his comments with any lesser authorities.

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