Oral argument in Weaver v. Massachusetts set for April 19
The United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument Wednesday to consider a juvenile murderer’s claim that his conviction and life sentence should be overturned because his trial lawyer was incompetent.
At issue in the case of Weaver v. Massachusetts is whether the Constitution requires a conviction be invalidated by an alleged error, even if the error had no effect on the fairness of the trial or the defendant’s case.
The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has filed argument with the Court to encourage a decision rejecting the murderer’s claim.
The case involves the 2003 murder of 15-year-old Germaine Rucker by then 16-year-old Kentel Myrone Weaver. Evidence introduced at trial indicates that on August 10 of that year, Rucker was alone riding his bicycle in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester carrying a backpack containing necklaces he was selling. When the boy turned down Wendover Street, a group of youths, including Weaver, attacked him knocking him to the ground and began to beat him. After one of the youths grabbed the backpack and ran off, Weaver pulled a gun and shot Rucker twice in the head. As he ran, witnesses saw Weaver drop his gun and lose his baseball cap. He picked up the gun, but left the cap. Later, DNA testing linked Weaver to the cap. Prior to his arrest, Weaver’s mother questioned him extensively about the crime. After denying any involvement for two days, Weaver admitted to her that he was the shooter. He later admitted this to police during questioning.
Prior to the trial, during jury selection, the number of prospective jurors was so large that they filled every seat in the courtroom with many standing in the aisles. As a result, Weaver’s mother was not able to be in the courtroom during the two days it took to empanel the jury.
At trial, Weaver claimed that his confession violated Miranda because his mother coerced him into confessing to police. The trial judge rejected that argument. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm for which he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
Weaver appealed, claiming that his trial attorney had been incompetent for failing to adequately argue that his client had been coerced to confess, and for failing to object to his mother having been kept out of the courtroom during jury selection. After the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts rejected both claims in a 2016 decision, Weaver appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court arguing that the exclusion of his mother during jury selection was a structural error that violated his constitutional rights and invalidated his conviction.
In a scholarly amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton argues that in order for the error to invalidate Weaver’s conviction, he must prove that the failure of his attorney to object to the exclusion of his mother during jury selection somehow undermined his ability to prove his innocence during the trial. “The error in this case is a minor one having no impact on the trial or sentencing of this murderer,” said Stapleton. “Were the court to adopt Weaver’s claim, other guilty murderers would be able to seek reversal of their convictions on technical errors which occurred at trial without having to show that the alleged error had any effect on the trial or sentencing,” she added.
CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.