Innocence is irrelevant, says Supreme Court

I don’t believe article is paywalled. For the the tl/dr group, a defendant appealed claiming ineffective counsel because evidence with would have exonerated him was not introduced at trial. Supreme Court ruled (contrary to some existing precedent) that evidence not in the trial record cannot be considered in determining whether he had ineffective counsel.

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that case is troubling for a lot of reasons. death penalty cases should be hard to win and enforce and all appropriate process steps need to be met. or…not any more

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has said this. You can go back to Herrera v. Collins (1993) where the defendant stated that new evidence proved he was innocent, and SCOTUS said "nah, sorry, not grounds for federal habeas corpus and Herrera was eventually executed. Notable in that case was Scalia’s comment that “there is no basis, tradition, or even in contemporary practice for finding that in the Constitution the right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after a conviction.” In other words, even if you’re wrongly convicted and further evidence shows you really are innocent and someone else did the crime you were convicted of, the state has no duty to release you from custody.

[There’s a later case that doubled down on that statement, but I can’t find the case for it. I’ll try to look later.]

Also note: Scalia and Thomas bitterly dissented in In re Troy Anthony Davis (2009) arguing that "never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually innocent.’ ” Davis had his case reviewed again, the judge decided the evidence presented was not enough to clearly establish that Davis was innocent, and Davis would later be executed.

The fact that at least 5 current SCOTUS judges would decide demonstrated innocence isn’t grounds for having a conviction thrown out and a penalty imposed in full - even if the penalty imposed is death - isn’t a surprise at all.

stare decisis here, but not in a politically charged ruling? OK,

What an abuse conclusion of the court

That sounds awful, but is also somewhat different from the issue in the case I described. That’s referring to newly discovered evidence, with no claim of any procedural mistake in the first trial. The current appeal was about ineffective counsel. It isn’t clear to me which of the evidence had been found at the time of the first trial. Regardless, the decision does not appear to depend on when the evidence was found. Apparently, since it wasn’t introduced at the time of the original trail (and maybe, at the time of the appeal), it cannot be considered now. Even though, at least to the extent it had been found, or should have been found, before, it is (alleged) proof of ineffective counsel.

Yes, they’re different arguments in the two cases, but the underlying theme is the same: even if you can prove today you’re really innocent, that doesn’t change the fact that you were found guilty in the past and a state can tell you you’re still SOL.

I should no better than to argue legal points with a former attorney (on TV), but still.

  1. Suppose you had a fair trial and were found guilty but newly discovered evidence proves you are innocent. Previously established. State can tell you you’re still SOL.
  2. But suppose you didn’t have a fair trial due to ineffective counsel and were found guilty. New ruling: unless the trial record itself proves ineffective counsel, state can tell you you’re still SOL
  3. You didn’t have a fair trial due to ineffective counsel, as demonstrated by the record of the trial. You were found guilty. Current court hasn’t explicitly said state can tell you you’re still SOL.
  4. You didn’t have a fair trial because some jurors were excluded due to their race or religion being the same as yours. You were found guilty. Current court hasn’t explicitly overturned prior rulings barring that, so for now the state cannot tell you you’re still SOL.