Release Date: October 4, 2021
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Oral Argument in Brown v. Davenport on October 5

The U. S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument Tuesday to consider Michigan’s appeal of a Sixth Circuit Court ruling that had announced that because Ervine Lee Davenport was partially shackled during his trial his conviction was invalid.

The issues in the case of Brown v. Davenport are whether the jury was actually prejudiced due to the partial shackling and whether the Sixth Circuit used the proper standard to overturn the judgment, after prior courts had held that the shackling was harmless error.

The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF) has joined the case to encourage a decision reinstating his conviction.

The case involves Davenport’s conviction for murdering Annette White. On January 13, 2007, White’s partially-clothed body was found in a Kalamazoo, Michigan field. The previous evening, Davenport, a habitual felon, had agreed to drive White home from a friend’s house where they had been smoking crack cocaine. An autopsy later concluded that White had been strangled to death.

Following his arrest, Davenport, who is 6’5” and weighs 300 lbs., admitted strangling White, 5’2” and 103 lbs., but claimed he did so in self-defense. At trial, experts testified that it would have taken roughly 5 minutes to strangle the victim to death, but that she would have blacked out in less than a minute. Evidence indicated that after Davenport killed the woman and disposed of her body, he went to her home and ate some food, then stole some of her belongings, including a stereo. Other evidence included Davenport’s own words that he “offed her” and testimony from witnesses of him bragging that if he had a problem with someone he would choke them. The combined evidence convinced the jury to convict Davenport of first-degree murder. He received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During the trial, Davenport was partially shackled, which is unconstitutional without a showing of a specific need for shackling. After the trial, the jurors were interviewed and each one stated that the shackles did not influence their unanimous decision. On both direct appeal and federal habeas corpus, Davenport claimed that the shackles prejudiced the jury, but the state courts and federal district court disagreed and found it to be harmless error. On June 30, 2020, a divided panel of the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the state courts and the federal district court used the wrong standard to find the error harmless.

In a scholarly amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton argues that it was the Sixth Circuit who used the wrong standard to overturn Davenport’s conviction. Federal law requires that court to respect the findings of the state courts which, guided by U. S. Supreme Court precedent, held that the shackling, while an error, had no effect on the jury or the outcome of the trial and was therefore harmless.

“The Sixth Circuit in this case misapplied law and precedent to overturn the conviction of an admitted murderer. The Michigan state courts thoroughly evaluated and rejected Davenport’s claim that his partial shackling at trial affected the jury’s verdict. Federal habeas courts must give great deference to a state court’s determination of harmless error. We are encouraging the U. S. Supreme Court to make this clear in its decision,” said Stapleton.

CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton is available for comment at (916) 446-0345