US supreme court to hear case that could have dire consequences for death row inmates

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The US Supreme Court will hear arguments from two death row inmates in Arizona on Wednesday that could have disastrous consequences for inmates trying to prove their innocence before being sent to the execution room.

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State officials in Arizona are asking the nation’s highest court to ban two condemned inmates — one with a strong claim of innocence, the other with a history of intellectual disability and family abuse — from presenting evidence in federal court. which can save their life.


Arizona officials argue that prisoners should not be allowed to present evidence because they failed to do so in state court at an earlier stage in their legal proceedings.

But the prisoners protested that they had no chance of seeking redress at the state level because the attorneys assigned to them by Arizona were so incompetent at trial that they failed to uncover important evidence that saved them the death penalty. could. Following the conviction, he was assigned a second group of lawyers who were equally ineffective and resulted in no challenge to the blatant mismanagement of his defense at trial.

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Death penalty experts have warned that if the nation’s Supreme Court is in Arizona’s favor it will create new obstacles that will allow all sentenced prisoners, including death row inmates, to seek redress in federal court for possible miscarriages of justice. can stop. Most of all, persons who should have been acquitted or who should never have been sentenced to death because of their intellectual disabilities face the risk of being unjustly executed.

“An adversarial resolution in this case could present serious obstacles for wrongly convicted prisoners to prove their innocence and win their liberty,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the US. death penalty information center,

Nearly 3,000 prisoners have been acquitted in america Since 1989, 186 innocent people were sentenced to death. Christina Swarns, executive director of the Innocence Project, estimates that among them is more than 25,000 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Swarns said that if Arizona prevails, “the untold thousands of wrongfully convicted innocent people will be left in the nightmare state of no court to turn to for justice.”

At its most visceral, the Arizona case, Shin vs Ramirez and Jones, is a matter of life and death. But the hearing by close observers of the Supreme Court is also seen as crucial to how revolutionary the new court intends to be.

The Supreme Court is in its first full term with a new six to three Conservative majority. This right-wing creation is the product of a remodeling of the court by Donald Trump by appointing three new judges in highly controversial circumstances.

“It’s a frightening case of how extreme the Supreme Court can be,” said Leah Littman, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Michigan’s Law School.

Last week, courts rocked the United States when it heard arguments in a case that could overturn the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion to the point of embryo viability. Conservative justices indicated they are also considering restricting or ending abortion rights.

Critics have warned that if the new Supreme Court bans abortion it could seriously damage the court’s legitimacy, giving the impression of being influenced by partisan politics in the abortion case from extremist Republicans in Mississippi.

The Arizona death penalty case poses similar threats to the position of the court, and with it the state of American democracy. Were conservative judges to rule in Arizona’s favor, they would support a radical partisan move by Republican state lawmakers.

In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled Martinez vs Ryan that prisoners should be allowed to present claims in federal court that they had ineffective attorneys in the later stages of their trial and conviction. That precedent was never questioned by the Court of Appeal or any justice of the Supreme Court.

Now Arizona Republicans are trying to impose a new hurdle. Prisoners can present claims that their attorneys were ineffective as Martinez required, but they cannot provide any evidence to support those claims.

“Obviously, presenting a claim without any evidence is not too much of a claim,” Littman said.

She continued: “It is important to understand that the actions in this case are the same actions that are taking place elsewhere on the court docket in this period, asking for overly aggressive maneuvers that threaten the institutional integrity of the Court.”

Barry Jones, one of two death row inmates at the center of Wednesday’s arguments, has always claimed his innocence. He was sentenced to death in May 1994 for the murder of his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter in Tucson, Arizona.

In 2017, a federal judge ruled that there was a “hurry of decision” in prosecuting Jones. Prosecutors relied on junk science, telling the jury that the victim’s injuries could be scientifically shown to have been in Jones’ sole care the day before her death.

Jones’ trial counsel did not challenge the testimony at trial, which actually amounted to admitting the defendant’s guilt. But at a federal hearing in 2017 the court was told by a medical expert who had reviewed forensics that the girl’s injuries “probably could not have been established the day before her death”.

The judge ordered that Jones be released or a fresh trial be conducted. But Arizona is so determined to hang its prisoner that the state has appealed to the Supreme Court.

One of Jones’ legal team, Carrie Sandman, said her client had “spent more than 25 years on the death penalty despite not having a fair trial. Arizona is now arguing that Jones should have recourse to the federal courts.” Without that wrongdoing will be punished.”

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