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Supreme Court Orders New Hearing for Troy Davis

The Supreme Court today ordered a new evidentiary hearing for Troy Davis. The Court directed the District Court in Georgia to “receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis'] innocence.”

ScotusBlog reports here. The court order is here (pdf.) The dissenting opinon by Justices Scalia and Thomas is here (pdf). [More...]

Amnesty International responds (no link, received by e-mail):

Given the lack of hard evidence tying Davis to Officer MacPhail’s murder, it would be nothing short of unconscionable to put him to death as a means of conveniently tying up loose ends. Finally there is an opportunity for justice to truly be served.”

Our prior coverage of Troy Davis and his compelling claim of innocence is accessible here.

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    I can't seem to find the order itself (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 12:00:49 PM EST
    I just see the Stevens concurrence and the Scalia dissent.

    Either way, good news.

    The order says (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 12:26:51 PM EST
    The motion of NAACP, et al. for leave to file a brief as amici curiae is granted. The motion of Bob Barr, et al. for leave to file a brief as amici curiae is granted. The petition for a writ of habeas corpus is transferred to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia for hearing and determination. The District Court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence. JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR took no part in the consideration or decision of these motions and this petition.

    JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE GINSBURG and JUSTICE BREYER join, concurring.



    Parent
    I guess that's it (none / 0) (#5)
    by andgarden on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 12:34:40 PM EST
    Orders are formatted differently from opinions.

    Parent
    Side note (none / 0) (#3)
    by Steve M on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 12:27:08 PM EST
    It is unclear how Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., or Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., voted, if they did, but it appears that at least two of them would have had to agree to the step taken.

    Since this was just an order and not a signed opinion, we don't know how everyone voted, but it must have been 5-3 or 6-2.  So either Roberts or Alito voted in favor of the new hearing, which is interesting.

    I guess it's maybe conceivable (none / 0) (#4)
    by Dalton Hoffine on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 12:31:50 PM EST
    That they didn't vote as well, for some reason? And it wound up being a 3-2 decision? That'd be... peculiar, at best.

    Parent
    Nah (none / 0) (#6)
    by Steve M on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 12:35:36 PM EST
    Very very unlikely.  An abstention would be noted.

    Parent
    Indeed (none / 0) (#7)
    by andgarden on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 12:38:15 PM EST
    I do wonder about the timing of this release. What could possibly have been the different outcome with Souter or Sotomayor participating?

    Parent
    Orin Kerr (none / 0) (#8)
    by Steve M on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 01:12:04 PM EST
    points out the relatively unprecedented nature of the Supreme Court's action.

    Something that may baffle the layman is how hard it is to get before the Supreme Court with nothing more than a claim of innocence.  After all, there's a state court system with a trial court and multiple appellate courts.  They're the ones who are supposed to figure out if your guilt was established beyond a reasonable doubt.  By the time you get into federal court, you're expected to have a federal constitutional argument (such as a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment), not simply an argument that "I didn't do it."

    But at the end of the day, is it consistent with the Due Process Clause to execute someone who didn't commit a crime?  There are certainly those who believe due process means process, period, but it would be pretty hard for the Supreme Court to make such a ruling in the face of an actual, colorable claim of innocence.

    well, at least except for... (none / 0) (#9)
    by Dadler on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 01:48:03 PM EST
    ...mephistos scalia and thomas.  we'll kill you first and sort out the process later.  perhaps, for their benefit, we could simply start cryonically freezing the executed.

    Parent
    I don't understand... (none / 0) (#10)
    by lentinel on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 02:07:52 PM EST
    Why is the criterion for a new trial the necessity of finding or establishing evidence of innocence? Why isn't it enough that a reasonable doubt of his guilt has been established?

    If there were to be a new trial, and most of the witnesses have recanted their testimony, what evidence would there be to convict?

    Why is it now a matter of guilty unless proven innocent?

    Can someone with legal knowledge explain this to me?

    Reasonable doubt (none / 0) (#12)
    by Bemused on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 02:24:47 PM EST
     and the presumption of innocence are concepts that apply prior to conviction at the trial. Once a conviction has been obtained things change. the person is no longer entitled to a presumption of innocence.

       Even on direct appeal a conviction will be reversed on insufficiency of the evidence only if the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution precludes ANY rational trier of fact from having found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

     It does not matter (at least formally) if every appellate judge personally harbors reasonable doubt, the standard is that the judges must conclude no rational person could disagree. That's a tough standard and it gets tougher from there.

       Once direct appeal is exhausted, the standards are even more exacting. Newly discovered evidence of "actual innocence" must first be found to be new in type not merely quantum; usually it won't suffice if it is just impeachment or credibility evidence; it has to be found not only that the evidence was not presented at trial but that it was not only "unavailable but also could not have been availabale with due diligence (although ineffective assistance can sometimes help here)

       If you get by all of that the court must find the new evidence so compelling as to to create a belief there is a probability  the verdict was factually wrong and manifest injustice results. It is NOT enough for the new evidence to create reasonable doubt; it must create a belief the person is innocent.

       Thais can lead to bad results, but on the other hand you really can't have a system where a new trial or even protracted proceedings is required every time a convicted person files a new petition and affidavits. finality is a central consideration and there only so many judicial resources to go around.

    Parent

    I understand what you are saying... (none / 0) (#15)
    by lentinel on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 06:50:23 PM EST
    but in this case it would seem that the only evidence against Troy Davis were the witnesses. If they recant, there is no evidence left that would point to his guilt. Would not that be cause for a new trial?

    Parent
    not necessarily (none / 0) (#16)
    by Bemused on Tue Aug 18, 2009 at 09:14:56 AM EST
      I'm not closely familiar with the facts of this case, but broadly speaking recantation testimony (for obvious reasons) is not accepted at face value.

        And, the ultimate issue is not even whether in light of believed  recantations there is now reasonable doubt in the minds of the judge. The question is whether the judge is convinced, in light of newly discovered evidence found to be credible, that there is substantial probability the verdict was wrong, i.e. the person is factually innocent.

       I don't know what the evidence at trial was other than the testimony from witnesses who have changed their stories. I do recall reading that not all the witnesses changed their stories and that there was forensic evidence showing that a casing found at the scene was determined to match one from another crime for which Davis was convicted. We also know it is undisputed he was at the scene at the time of the shooting.

      Whether the court will find the recantations credible remains a question (apparently previous courts have not). Then, remember the recantations are not affirmative evidence of inccocence unless they also include inculpatory assertions about another person (possibly  this Red Coles guy might be implicated by some, but i don't know).

       I'd say he still has but a longshot chance of overturning the verdict, but might have a much better chance at obtaining a commutation which the Governor can grant just because he isn't sure of guilt.

       As i siad before, the standards are different now HE has the burdenn of proof of convincing a court that the verdict was wrong. In the absence of very strong affirmative evidence of innocence that is going to be a very tough sell and i have not heard of any affirmative evidence he he has produced.

    Parent

    i wonder if justice scalia (none / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 02:12:12 PM EST
    appreciates his own irony, in suddenly being concerned with the court addressing issues not raised in the defendant's writ?

    Great news (none / 0) (#13)
    by Mikeb302000 on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 02:30:38 PM EST
    This is the first place I've read this wonderful news. Thanks for posting it. I'm singing.

    Agree! This is WONDERFUL. (none / 0) (#14)
    by allimom99 on Mon Aug 17, 2009 at 04:49:17 PM EST