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CASES DECIDED
Listing of the most recent cases decided in which CJLF filed a brief.
Glossip v. Gross
No. 14-7955
U. S. Supreme Court
Decision date: 6/29/2015
Win
A 5-4 U. S. Supreme Court decision to reject the claim of three condemned murderers that Oklahoma’s execution process is unconstitutional because it might cause pain. One of the murderers in this case hired a contract killer to beat a man to death with a baseball bat. Another bent his 9-month-old daughter backwards, killing her because her crying interrupted his video game. The third stabbed a female food service supervisor to death while he was serving a 130-year prison sentence for multiple armed robberies. CJLF joined the case to argue that the Constitution does not guarantee a pain-free execution, but lethal injection only requires a level of anesthesia to prevent extreme pain. The Foundation also argued that when murderers challenge an execution method as unconstitutional they are required to present an alternative method that does comply with the Constitution. The Court’s decision adopted both of these points.
Ohio v. Clark
No. 13-1352
U. S. Supreme Court
Decision date: 6/18/2015
Win
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision to reinstate an Ohio child abuser’s conviction. The Ohio Supreme Court had held that allowing the teachers who discovered the victim’s injuries to testify about what the child told them violated the criminal’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him. The case involved the 2010 conviction of Darius Clark for the beating of his girlfriend’s three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. When preschool teachers noticed bruises on the little boy’s face, they asked him who hurt him. When he responded that Clark had hit him, they reported the incident to child protective services who located the boy and his sister and took them to a hospital where other injuries to both children were discovered. On appeal, Clark won a decision announcing that the testimony of the teachers at this trial was unconstitutional. When the state appealed that ruling, CJLF joined the case to argue that a statement made to a first responder, whether a policeman or someone else, is not the same as a statement taken by an investigator building a case against a known suspect. The statement to the investigator is “testimonial” as that term is used by the Supreme Court, and the statement to the first responder, or in this case, a teacher, is not. The Supreme Court’s decision agreed.
Elonis v. United States
No. 13-983
United States Supreme Court Decision date: 6/1/15
Draw
U. S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who posted threats on Facebook to brutally murder his estranged wife and a female FBI agent. In 2010, after his wife left him, and he was fired from his job for sexually harassing a female employee, Anthony Elonis began posting threats to murder his wife on his Facebook page, including a statement that he would not stop until “your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.” After Elonis refused an interview with a female FBI agent, he posted about slitting her throat. Following his conviction in 2011 for transmitting threats, Elonis appealed, arguing that his conviction was unconstitutional because it was not proven that he specifically intended to threaten his victims. CJLF joined the Supreme Court review of the case to argue that, while there was no high court precedent on this issue, nine of the eleven federal circuit courts have held that the transmission of threats is a general intent crime, requiring only that a reasonable person would recognize his statements as threats. The Court’s ruling held that the criminal transmission of threats requires a state of mind somewhere above negligence. The Court did not address whether recklessness would be sufficient, either under the statute or the First Amendment. If it is, the law would be largely unchanged, as a practical matter. Because the key issues remain undecided, we count this as a draw.
Winchell & Alexander v. Beard
No. 13-1352
Sacramento Superior Court
Decision date: 6/2/15
Win
Unanimous U. S. Supreme Court decision to reinstate an Ohio child abuser’s conviction. The Ohio Supreme Court had held that allowing the teachers who discovered the victim’s injuries to testify about what the child told them violated the criminal’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him. The case involved the 2010 conviction of Darius Clark for the beating of his girlfriend’s three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. When preschool teachers noticed bruises on the little boy’s face, they asked him who hurt him. When he responded that Clark had hit him, they reported the incident to child protective services who located the boy and his sister and took them to a hospital where other injuries to both children were discovered. On appeal, Clark won a decision announcing that the testimony of the teachers at this trial was unconstitutional. When the state appealed that ruling, CJLF joined the case to argue that a statement made to a first responder, whether a policeman or someone else, is not the same as a statement taken by an investigator building a case against a known suspect. The statement to the investigator is “testimonial” as that term is used by the Supreme Court, and the statement to the first responder, or in this case, a teacher, is not. The Supreme Court’s decision agreed.
Jennings v. Stephens
No. 13-7211
U. S. Supreme Court Court
Decision date: 1/14/15
Draw
U. S. Supreme Court ruling allowing a condemned cop killer to raise on appeal an allegation challenging his conviction on federal habeas corpus even though it had been rejected by a lower court. The case involved the conviction of Robert Lee Jennings for murdering a Houston police officer during a 1988 robbery. After his conviction and sentence had been upheld by the state’s highest court on direct appeal, Jennings raised allegations challenging the competence of his trial attorney before a federal district court on habeas corpus. The court denied one of his allegations, but accepted others. When the federal appeals court refused to hear the denied allegation on appeal, the Supreme Court agreed to review that holding. CJLF joined the case seeking a decision requiring that all allegations included in a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel be considered together as one claim on appeal, even if a lower court denies some of them. A decision requiring this would have simplified and shortened the post-conviction review of death penalty cases. In its ruling, the court chose not to confront the "claim" issue, but allowed the defendant to raise his rejected allegation.
Hall v. Florida
No. 12-10882
U. S. Supreme Court Court
Decision date: 5/27/14
Loss
U. S. Supreme Court decision announcing that, when determining the IQ of a murder defendant who claims he is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally retarded, states should not use a rigid cutoff score that does not account for a margin of error. The case involved a murderer’s claim that the IQ requirement for mental retardation should be expanded from a score of below 70 to a range of 67 to 75. In 1981, Freddie Lee Hall, and an accomplice, kidnapped a 21-year-old pregnant woman from a grocery store parking lot and drove her into the woods where she was raped, beaten, and shot to death. After two decades of appeals upholding Hall’s conviction and sentence, the Supreme Court decided in another case that executing the mentally retarded was unconstitutional. At that time, the Florida Legislature had already adopted a nationally accepted standard, which included an IQ below 70 to qualify. Hall, whose lowest admissible IQ score was 71, asked the Supreme Court to broaden the range to include him. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Hall’s appeal, CJLF accepted the Florida Attorney General’s request to join the case. CJLF argued that standards for mental retardation should be left up to the states. Otherwise, well-deserved sentences for clearly guilty murderers will be held up for years as these issues are endlessly reviewed.
People v. Moffett
No. S206771
California Supreme Court Court
Decision date: 5/5/14
Draw
California Supreme Court ruling that a California law, which allows murderers between the ages of 16 and 18 years old to be eligible for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), does not violate the U. S. Supreme Court’s June 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama. The case involves a criminal (a few days short of his 18th birthday) who committed an armed robbery along with an accomplice. During their attempted escape, the accomplice shot and killed a police officer. Andrew Moffett was convicted of the murder of Officer Larry Lasater, which is a death penalty offense for murderers over 18. Because of his age, he received a sentence of LWOP. During sentencing, the judge noted that she was exercising her discretion to give this sentence, rather than life with parole, due to the circumstances of the crime. While Moffett’s case was on appeal, the U. S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, abolished mandatory LWOP for murderers under 18. The state Court of Appeal overturned Moffett’s sentence, announcing that it violated the “spirit” of Miller. When the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the state’s appeal, CJLF filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Officer Lasater’s wife, mother, and brother arguing to reinstate Moffett’s sentence. The brief noted that the Miller ruling bars mandatory LWOP for murderers under the age of 18, while California law gives judges sentencing discretion. The state Supreme Court agreed, but due to Miller’s expanded factors that must be considered at sentencing, Moffett’s case was sent back to the original trial judge for resentencing, and the judge resentenced Moffett to LWOP.